On this, our country’s birthday, Americans celebrate the day off from work with barbecues, all-American picnics, and fireworks displays that have become breathtaking, and a far cry from the sparse shower cones and sparklers of my youth.
Today, on July 4th, I talked with a very good friend of mine whose birthday is July 5th, the day after our country’s birthday. It is an appropriate coincidence that they almost share their birthdays: our beloved country, and an American hero, who loves his country.
Jack was a very young man during World War II when he was shot down over Germany and taken prisoner. He spent two years in a Nazi prisoner of war stalag like the one that the history books document. That in itself is fascinating: it just seems that all of that part of history happened such a long time ago that it seems impossible to know someone who can talk about that bubble of time. He doesn’t talk about it very often, and is often vague when he does speak of it. But here is a page of history come to life, having stepped right out of the history book, to stand in front of me and be able to tell about those times.
I am in awe of Jack. I cannot thank him enough for his love of and dedication to our country. I cannot thank him enough for the sacrifices he made for our country and for his fellow Americans. I cannot possibly repay him for the pain and suffering he endured as a prisoner of war. He does not ask for any of these things, nor does he expect it.
But I can respect him. I can honor him. I can visit with him and listen to him with attentive humility, for in his gentleness, I am truly humbled.
One day, Jack and I were trying to resolve a problem and I was worried about the outcome’s impact on him. He said, “Honey, as long as you don’t stab me with a knife, it’s just a small thing that I just don’t need to worry much about.” This simple sentence was a revelation to me. These words were spoken by a man who had experienced true worry, like the worry of being hunted by the Nazis around his downed plane. By a man who had experienced the fright of a Nazi soldier sighting down his gun at him, forcing his surrender. And by a man who had experienced true pain, like the pain of hunger in a stalag prisoner camp in the cold of Europe’s winter, or the pain of knowing that his loved ones thought him dead, or maybe worse, captured by a vicious enemy.
Once you put life’s worries into perspective, some things seem inconsequential. My worry, pain, and fright seem like nothing compared to what Jack has seen and experienced, all on behalf of our country and our freedom.
Our freedom. So many take it for granted, or think that the phrase ‘freedom’ somehow translates to ‘entitled.’ If anyone was entitled to something, it would be this great American, Jack, for all that he has done for us. If anyone was entitled to command respect of fellow Americans, it is this American hero and all the other heroes just like him, however young or old.
Fellow Americans, your empowerment is only possible because of Americans like my friend Jack. Be humble. Be thankful. Be kind. Because the saying “There but for the grace of God, go I” was never truer than it is now, today, in our country.
Thank you Jack, for all that you have done for this, our beloved country, and for the insight that you’ve given me on being a kinder and humbler American.
Copyright © 2011, Maura White. All rights reserved.