all of the selves we Have ever been
As a life-long student of human behavior,
I try to understand evil. I am fascinated by the stories of those who have triumphed over wickedness. How does one endure such horror and live to tell about it?
Some years ago an aging Holocaust survivor shared his story with me. A young teenage boy in the Nazi concentration camps, he grew desperate and felt a growing desire to end his life and the terrible daily torment. The boy’s one good fortune was to be in the same camp as his father and to share a bunk with him. The father was a decorated World War I soldier in their homeland. He would not encourage such thoughts in his boy. Each night the father instructed his son to leave their bunk. Together they would lie on the dirt floor with ears pressed to the ground. Through the earth the father could hear the reverberations of distant artillery fire. “The Americans are coming,” whispered the father. On each successive night father and son climbed from their bunk and pressed their ears to the ground. They listened for the echoes of gunfire. The father would estimate the progress of the advancing United States Army. Each night the boy fell asleep to the words that had become like a good night prayer, “the Americans are coming.”
And they did.
Whenever I am discouraged by politics and bad behavior, I remind myself that I live in the home of the brave. I think of that boy in the camps, of who we are, of what we have accomplished, of our place in the world. “The Americans are coming,” I tell myself.
And they will.
On this Memorial Day, I remember all those who have survived evil. I remember my Uncle John and Aunt Lillie who served in the war that saved those Holocaust survivors. I remember my father who came after, cousin Al who served in Vietnam, my beloved veterans at the Missouri Veterans Home in Warrensburg, and all those Americans who came whenever and wherever they were needed.