Sometimes, life never ceases to amaze me….in a very good way even in the midst of processing disturbing images of the recent Paris terrorist attack. There are those who wish to destroy and harm perhaps even right in our communities and the unknown can be very frightening. Yet, if we chose to look for examples of love and inclusion, they can also be found right under our nose.
I recently was privileged to eat lunch with two amazing woman, woman I have long admired for their generous contributions to society. In the course of conversation, I learned things I never knew about them… things that perhaps they were reluctant to acknowledge due to social conditioning and/or maybe to me… a daughter of an American WW2 Veteran.
One friend was a daughter of first generation immigrants from the Ukraine. She told the story while sitting at a table at her mother’s favorite New Jersey diner, a place where her mother went every Wednesday and was made to feel welcome. Her mother, at the age of 17, was forcibly abducted by German soldiers while at a Catholic Church in her Ukrainian hometown. She was separated from her family and sent to a German work camp.
While there, she labored like the Jewish captives. Like the Jews, her crime was in her religion. It was also there that she met a fellow Ukrainian and fell in love and eventually married. He was also there because he was Catholic and Ukrainian and every bit the victim as she. However, due to the couple’s reticence to disclose the capacity of his involvement, that time period remains a mystery even to their children. Their daughter was only told that her father once assisted a young Jewish boy to safety but upon both parent’s passing, the rest of their stories remain untold.
My other friend was the daughter of first generation immigrants from Germany. Her parents arrived in the US in the years prior to the War. Her mother had difficulty assimilating to the new culture and language and wished to go back to Germany. Unfortunately it was an ill-timed trip due to political upheaval. Her husband sent word from the US that she needed to return. She made passage safely but with much difficulty. Her mother’s brothers back in Germany were forced to join the German Army and lost their lives during the conflict. During the time period of the war, the couple faced regular and unnerving visits from the FBI, a suspicion among the community, and fear for their family’s future.
Sixty five years ago it might have been unfathomable for the daughters of these three sets of parents to become friends. Yet, here we are celebrating the fact that we can.
This diversity is what makes this country great. We each have a compelling story to tell. We are all unified in the belief that we want better for the next generation. The lessons of the past should serve as a powerful reminder of what should not be repeated in the future.
My parents’ generation is widely regarded as the greatest generation. While it cannot be replicated, I believe that children and teens needs to realize they have the ability to become our next greatest generation. Never has information been so available. Education is the key to understanding and making rational decision, not knee-jerk reactions based upon fear. We fear what we do not know nor understand.
If we lead by example our children can learn to practice inclusion, not exclusion. We can demonstrate one act at a time through human contact that we can overcome prejudices.
The late Luther Vandross sang these words “Let the world sing. Let us all begin to heal. There is hope in all this world. Say a little prayer for the world. God teach us love. “