Kenneth Radu

Don’t die for me. One year ago to the minute Pauline had thought those exact words and now, during the minute of silence in honor of fallen soldiers, she thought them again. Students all stood with their heads bowed, supposedly praying or at least thinking about men and women who had had been shot, eviscerated, decapitated, wrenched apart, torn and tattered over the past hundred years, all sacrificing themselves for their country. Their knowledge of war did not extend beyond the Iraqi invasion and Afghanistan. True, a young reservist had enrolled in her class: Gabriel, a sweet boy. True, the parents and grandparents of some had experienced World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. But as they shuffled and coughed, and the three girls in the back row carried on a whispered conversation, Pauline attempting to deflect an urge to cry. Most of her students understood nothing about the texture of blood and the pain of fiery flesh. They knew only what they experienced virtually, on their computers.

How long did a minute, spent in private grief, last? Last year she could not answer. This year, she’d say it lasted a lifetime. She lowered her head again, noting a water stain on her blue silk blouse. She became aware of her duty to act as a role model, show by personal example, proper deference. She did not herself pray to any imaginable deity.

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