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September 27, 2010
After a weekend visit involving airports and train stations, nothing beats a rainy Monday at home, one during which little is required of me. Something fragrant is simmering away in the slow cooker. My Pandora station is playing Vera Lynne and her contemporaries, songs from back during the war, songs that make a person very glad to have a home and to be inside it on a day like today.

Brecause they are all so full of longing, those old songs. Longing for the faraway soldier or sailor or airman, longing for the lover back home. Longing for the war to be over, longing for home, for the everyday things that make up a normal life in peacetime. Longing so for a kiss that a song can be made about just one of them, or even about an arm-in-arm walk. And they are so full of hope: once the war is over, they do not doubt that there will be a future and that it will be bright, that the longed-for marriage will be a happy one, that everything for which they had to wait for so long will pour back into life then, an uncomplicated river of blessing.

There they are: he is young and skinny in his dress uniform, his visored cap a bit large for his head. There she is in her wedding dress, her hair a cloud of curls on top and another cloud at the bottom, her smiling lips a deep red. They are innocent of us, so far: we have not yet appeared. Innocent of us, but they are by no means innocent of other things: they already know what it is not to have what they want, what it is to work and work, rewarded by little beyond the sense of a duty done. They know what it is to live with the possibility of sudden death, a death that will allow no one time to say good-bye. They look too young to know these things, but they are not. People didn't linger in adolescence then for as long as many do today.

Of course, many people don't linger there today, either. It is not the era that keeps us childish: it is the luxury of an easy life. Challenging circumstances grow people up quickly, testing us and forcing us either to gather strength or fold. Those who live in them are blessed in a way that those at ease can never be: they know their own strength. They know what they can do. They know that much of what life will be is up to them and God, and that little comes of expecting others to pick up after them.

By and large, the generation for whom these old songs were new didn't complain much -- not nearly as much as we do now, about much less. Were they perfect people? We idealize them now, but nobody's perfect. And they idealized the homes and the loves they longed for -- in their memory, as is always so in memory, those things were fairer than they really were. It was and remains an imperfect world.

But it is beautiful to us, as it was to them. Most of us don't want to leave it until we absolutely have to. The old songs all assume that sacrifice to protect our world is a normal cost of living in it, for everyone. Times have changed since they were new -- it is difficult for many today to view sacrifice as something that might legitimately be required of us. But perhaps we could learn to think that way once again. If we cannot, it is difficult to imagine a future generation ever admiring us, as we admire the people who first heard these wonderful songs.

The White Cliffs of Dover

There'll be bluebirds over
The white cliffs of Dover,
Just you wait and see.

There'll be joy and laughter
And peace ever after,
When the world is free,

The shepherd will tend his sheep
The valleys will bloom again,
And Jimmy will go to sleep
In his own little room again,

There'll be bluebirds over
The white cliffs of Dover,
Just you wait and see.
---Lyrics by Nat Burton, 1941
Music by Walter Kent, 1941

You can listen to Vera Lynne sing this at
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