I would like to talk about the power of understanding and information. Early in this trip I thought I would be presenting at Nine Elms in France, only to find out we were at the incorrect location. The new date for the presentation would now be some 4 days later. In between these two dates a lot of miles covered between France and Belgium, information was discussed, locations visited, and thoughts processed. Some of the highlights included understanding how the gas affected our troops, the protection of the city of Ypres, and the dirty nature of fighting during Passcendaele.
Now the day of the biography, there was no fanfare. I was not worried about speaking at all, aside from making sense of my side notes and edits. As we were parking for lunch I got the idea to include a great and favorite poem by Alden Nowlan titled “Ypres, 1915”. Now this was simple an additional idea, nothing was to come from it aside from including a few lines I thought would add some poetic context to my soldiers bio. Now when I began to read the last 10-12 lines of the poem, an immense emotion took over. I could not finish the poem without feeling upset. I gave it a few minutes and returned to the poem only to be faced with the same feelings. Now how can a poem that I had read numerous times before, not make me have tears to the point I need to set it down and not read it? I do not know the answer to that question. It is still something I am trying to process as this trip continues on.
Somewhere along the way the learning became real for me. It wasn’t that I attached the words to a specific event or thought, but the reality of the poem, or at least my understanding of it, changed. This event had a profound impact on myself and I feel this showed the power of true learning experience. There is a human element that sometimes get lost in the history texts book. On that day I felt connected to a person and place in a way I didn’t before this trip. I don’t know if I understand the situation of what these soldiers went through fully, but for a brief moment I did feel very emotional about what I learned.
Joe Goguen, High School teacher