The Work We Have Been Given

Whether a brief conversation in the hallway or answering deeper questions at the Coffee with the President event, Dr. Williams' regularly interacts with students.

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In November, Veteran’s Day—originally conceived as Armistice Day commemorating the end of the First World War—fell upon the 100th anniversary
of the Great War’s conclusion.

This is a poignant reality. The world remains divided across nationalistic, religious, and cultural lines; is mired in
geopolitical uncertainty; and seems eerily similar to the state of affairs that marked the start of the last century. It is hard to believe a hundred years have passed since the world experienced a global conflict that changed the course of history, shaping not only the 20th century but as many scholars are now recognizing, the 21st as well. It seems so distant to us now. That generation and their children have passed. The oral traditions and stories have passed with them. Our appetite for history has diminished culturally as current sensibilities render the past irrelevant or even distasteful, and the experiences of generations past become impossible to relate to. Add to this, the images of the Great War are archaic, silent, black-and-white, and lacking the cinematic production quality we expect from video footage today. It seems this critical time in our history is other-worldly—not a part of who we are—though its impact was felt on every continent.

I remember learning about it in school. I remember reading The Guns of August and Hooray for Peace, Hurrah for War in high school and being drawn into the intrigue, complexities, and significance of the Great War. But it was meeting a veteran of the war that drove my interest in this era beyond typical classroom learning. The 70-year-old owner of a family-owned jewelry store in my hometown showed up at our school one day in his “Doughboy” uniform. He regaled us with stories and provided a very humanizing perspective on the war; his role in it; and its impact upon his life, the nation, and the world. He was real. It was real. And he brought to life the century-old conflict in a powerful way. Beanie Klahr is long gone. His store and even the building that housed it are gone. I am not sure for whom else he is still a meaningful memory, but I know he very much is one for me. I think of him often and fondly. I hope the new documentary, They Shall Not Grow Old, which is comprised of restored and revitalized WWI film, will rekindle an interest in this important event and cause us to learn from it in new ways. Perhaps it will bring the experiences of the past generation to life for us, like my encounter with Mr. Klahr.

There is something important to learn from them. The world has changed in a hundred years. Human nature has not. Technology has changed. But our propensity to do both great good and great harm with it has not. The global landscape has changed but the needs of people to be free and safe have not. And while political faces have changed,the presence of violent forces that seek to destroy the true, the good, and the beautiful remain. This is our reality in this world. It changes while remaining so very much the same. How we respond to the changing world and the character we bring to bear upon our lives and work and our decisions matter.

I remember Mr. Klahr saying that as a young man he had no idea how significant the war he fought would become, but he knew it mattered. He had no idea how much the world would change over the course of his lifetime, but he knew he had to adjust and do good work regardless. His expression of duty and commitment came through, as did his acceptance of change and desire to build upon the past in a meaningful way. In the trailer for the new documentary, there is a voice of a British veteran who says, “There was a job to be done, and you just got on and did it.” What a great encapsulation of life and work. We are given the time we have to do the work we have been given, no matter how hard, complicated, gruesome,
or costly. We do what we have been given to do. This sentiment is behind all great endeavors. It is behind the century old endeavor of Cairn University. The world requires us to change and adapt—to find new ways to do good work and fulfill our mission. With new challenges come new opportunities. Learning from the past, and building on it well, is our duty. I trust this edition of Cairn will provide you a glimpse into our efforts to do just that.