This week on May 8, the world will celebrate the 75th anniversary of a very important victory. It was called V-E Day back in 1945, the celebration of Victory in Europe—victory over Hitler and Mussolini and Fascism. The terrible destruction and death tolls had finally come to an end, and people in Europe could safely leave their homes again. They could get on with rebuilding their lives and reuniting with their loved ones.
My mother was a cadet nurse in the US Navy on that day in 1945, finishing up her nursing degree at a hospital in New York City. She came from a small, “one-horse” town, as she described it, so living in New York City was a new and exciting experience for her.
When word came that victory in Europe had been declared and that crowds were swarming to Times Square to celebrate, Mom’s roommate said, “Let’s go!” They took the subway, which cost ten cents in 1945, and joined the celebration.
The crowd was enormous, with more people than Mom had ever seen in her life. Everyone was happy—laughing and cheering and waving flags. The country had been at war since Mom was sixteen, and now at last, at LAST—it was over. She didn’t get swept into an embrace like the amorous sailor in the famous photograph, but she could easily see how it could happen in such a jubilant atmosphere.
But then, somehow, she and her roommate got separated. Mom looked around at the vast sea of faces and couldn’t find her. Her roommate knew how to navigate the subway system—Mom didn’t. And her roommate had Mom’s dime for the return trip to their nurses’ quarters at the hospital. Just as Mom was about to panic, she spotted a policeman. She wove through the crowd to reach him and explained what had happened. She asked him for directions and begged him to loan her a dime. He was reaching into his pocket when Mom’s roommate reappeared. They laughed and hugged, and went home. Mom is now 94 and she still remembers V-E Day as if it were yesterday.
My newest book, “If I Were You,” takes place in England during World War II and features a scene of V-E Day in London on May 8, 1945. Friends Eve Dawson and Audrey Clarkson have endured the terrifying, frustrating, endless days of World War II together, and they head out like my mom and her roommate did, to celebrate in Trafalgar Square:
“Thousands of people filled the streets, cheering and waving flags—Audrey had never seen so many flags! People climbed onto the statues and flower-strewn monuments, rejoicing. Men and women in uniform were everywhere, representing the many roles that citizens had played in this fight…Someone shoved miniature flags into their hands and they joined the waving and cheering. Children rode on their parents’ shoulders and Audrey realized those little ones had never experienced peacetime. She saw smiles on people’s faces but also tears. Everyone had lost someone. At least no more people had to die.”
But the novel doesn’t end with this scene. As joyous as this moment is for Eve and Audrey, they now must figure out what comes next. The world is a very different place from the one they grew up in. They are different women. They’ve learned lessons about themselves that should shape how they will live the rest of their lives. That is, if they’re wise enough to apply those lessons.
I think we’re all hoping there will be a V-C Day when we can declare victory over this coronavirus that has altered so many of our lives. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t suffered a loss of one kind or another, whether it’s a loved one, a job, a business, or a chance to graduate with their class. Hopefully, we’ve also gained some insight into ourselves and the way we were living before the lockdown. Hopefully, we’ll emerge as better persons, more in tune with God and with His plans for us. Maybe our prayer going forward should be the prayer of Moses in Psalm 90: “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”
I look forward to the day when we can join together in the town square to laugh and hug and celebrate victory. Until then, I want to ask myself: How am I being changed? What lessons do you never want to forget?