Sunday, November 11, 2007

Sacrifice, Survival, and Hope

I just read the speech William Safire wrote for President Nixon to deliver if the first lunar landing was unsuccessful. What would the world be like, if that speech had to be delivered?

Reading that speech, I'm overwhelmed at what was risked in the quest for human achievement and knowledge. Our finite understanding of the world takes their success for granted.

Notable amongst my father-in-law's many contributions to the world, he was in charge of the Command and Service Module on Apollo 11. Thus, all things moon-shot-related feel very personal to our family. The heroism of the Apollo astronauts affected the world, our country, and our family.

Today is Veteran’s Day in the United States. This holiday was instituted to thank living veterans for their service, "to acknowledge that their contributions to our national security are appreciated, and to underscore the fact that all those who served - not only those who died - have sacrificed and done their duty."

Every veteran represents a condolence letter composed, but not sent; an epitaph written but not inscribed. What would the world be if they didn't take that risk?

My father-in-law escaped Nazi Germany in 1939. He was nine years old. His parents sent him and his eleven year old brother in a car with a driver, without luggage, to visit relatives in Holland.

At the border, SS officers pulled the boys out of the car, beat them, and interrogated them about their parents' whereabouts. They didn't know. Thank G-d, they were released, and made their way to safety. My husband's grandparents followed the next day, dressed in evening clothes, using a similar ruse. They, too, arrived safely. Thank G-d.

They left a country in which the family had prospered for generations, in which their great-great- grandfathers were buried, without plans or material possessions.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., my mother-in-law’s father, aged 16, lied about his age, so he could enlist in the U.S. Army.

My father-in-law made it to Palestine, and fought in Israel's War of Independence as a teenager.

As a young adult, he came to the United States, again with nothing. To support himself, he moved refrigerators. Eventually, he decided to study engineering. He got his Ph.D., and worked for NASA.

Heroes abound. Not only my debts, but my debtors are incalculable.

This morning, I drove my son down dusty unpaved roads to the middle of a U.S. National State Park, to participate in a 10 mile hike with his shomer shabbat Boy Scout Troop.

He came home this afternoon, cheeks red with enthusiasm and vigor. I looked at him, his kippah (yarmulke) and shirt covered in the dirt of the trail, and marveled at this miracle, this living victory, the direct result of the sacrifice, survival, and hope of so many.

So today, I'm awash in images flags and tombstones, and the free soil they mark. From the family graves, to the flag of Israel, to the field of U.S. flags at Arlington Cemetery, to the flag Neil Armstrong planted on the moon, to the dirt on the embroidered U.S. flag patch attached to my son’s Boy Scout uniform.

May I never take this ground upon which my family, my children, and our future stand for granted.

May those currently at risk in the name of freedom come home safely, that all prewritten eulogies may be torn up for confetti.

May we soon see the day, when the only heroes needed are those that offer themselves to further humanity's reach, rather than to escape from its grasp.

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Blog Bloke said...

Amen sister. I lost several Uncles in those wars.

Jeanne Tuthill said...


Thank you for that piece. And thank you to all those who we honor on this day.

RaggedyMom said...

Beautiful. Thank you for writing this piece. I was looking for a thought like this one to focus on today. Your essay here helps me feel that this oft-overlooked day gained a measure of mental commemoration for me.

The Babka Nosher said...

What a beautiful post!

Jack Steiner said...

May we soon see the day, when the only heroes needed are those that offer themselves to further humanity's reach, rather than to escape from its grasp.

rachel said...

Amen. That was really beautiful.

teacherninja said...

Wow. what great family stories. Thanks for that post.

Miriam said...

that was a beautiful tribute!

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