A Tale of Two Soldiers, Revisited

The following post is from this past July. To mark Veterans Day (and Ed’s 88th birthday tomorrow), I thought it was worth sharing again.

Thank you to all who have served and sacrificed for our country in the armed forces.

When we were in Minnesota last week visiting my husband’s family, we paid a couple of visits to Brennan’s stepfather, Ed, at his nursing home. Ed is the man who taught my husband about responsibility, who provided him with structure and support through his teenage years, who was there for Brennan in the difficult time after his own father passed away. Ed is also a World War II veteran who fought in the Battle of the Bulge and was wounded just days before the war ended.

With my own parents still in their ‘50’s, it was more than a little difficult for me to get used to having a (step)father-in-law who is a member of the “greatest generation.” And I have to admit that, having seen him only once or twice a year for the past six years, I don’t know Ed very well. But I know that my husband loves and respects him. And I know that he has lived a long and interesting life, with his fair share of pain.

Some of it, of course, can be traced to his service in that awful war. Shortly before it ended, Ed found himself in Passau, Germany. In trying to rescue his sergeant, who had been shot, Ed was himself shot in the lung and the arm. He earned the bronze star for his actions. And he has lived with the repercussions of his injuries ever since.

Standing in Ed’s nursing home room during this year’s visit, I was reminded powerfully of an exchange I had with another World War II veteran, 13 years ago. Then, I was sitting on a train platform outside Munich – exhausted, overwhelmed, and anxious – having just arrived hours before – by myself – for a summer studying German at a language institute in Bavaria.

The elderly, frail gentleman was sitting on a bench by himself. I’m sure he could tell I felt lost, looking around for a perch for myself and my unwieldy luggage. He indicated that I should sit next to him. Once it became obvious that I was an American (and quite possibly this was obvious before I even opened my mouth), he started speaking to me in English. We made small talk; I told him about my plans to study German that summer.

After a few minutes chatting cordially, he paused and looked at me intently. He said “An American did this to me.” Turning slightly, he revealed to me the shoulder that I could not, until then, see. It looked like a large chunk of flesh had been carved away from it. His scrawny arm hung lamely at his side. “I saw the man who did it,” he said. “I saw his eyes.”

Lightening his tone somewhat, he continued: “I don’t blame him. We were at war. We were doing what we were told. If he hadn’t shot me, I would have shot him.” (Pause – deathly still pause.) “War is an awful, horrible thing. It is always horrible. Don’t you ever forget that.”

Then, stripping away the tension entirely, the old soldier smiled and told me, “I love America. My wife and I visit New York with friends every year.” Before we parted, he raised his eyebrows at me and said, “Now, as soon as you arrive at your institute, you call your mother. You call your mother. She’ll be worried about you.”

I don’t think I’ll ever forget the experience.

Whenever I see an elderly person, particularly one who looks weak or ill, I wonder what kind of a life they’ve lived. I wonder at the events and the change they must have seen in their lifetime. Whenever I see an old man wearing one of those hats that veterans wear – the kind that denotes the ship they served on – I envision the young, strong man he must have been. I don’t know what to say or do, except to show a little kindness and maybe a little love. I want to ask, but I don’t want to intrude. I want to thank, but I don’t want to sound trite. So mostly I just wonder. And I say a little prayer.

With Ed, I know something of his story. But I still don’t know what to say. So I show some kindness and some love. I give him a hug and a kiss. I encourage the boys to do the same for their “Baba Ed.” Every once in a while, I have the boys color him a picture and we stick it in the mail. And I pray.

I still think of that old German soldier – a veteran of the same war as Ed. The war that forever damaged his shoulder and Ed’s lung. They fought on different sides. Maybe they had different aims, but I think they were probably both just doing what was expected of them. Years later, I get a glimpse of their service in that faraway time, and I wonder. Quite a thing to think about, isn’t it?

7 Quick Takes Friday (Vol. 16)

7 quick takes sm1 Your 7 Quick Takes Toolkit!

— 1 —

You see this cute little stinker?

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He’s turning TWO in a few days. (Which, I have to admit, I’ll be kind of relieved to say. Just like his older brother, the kiddo looks about a year older than he is. I always feel a little awkward admitting to people that the child they took as three isn’t even two yet. You should see their eyes bulge when I point to my older son and say, “That one’s three.”)

Anyway, little guy’s birthday is approaching, so I’m entertaining all sorts of mushy thoughts about the swiftness of time’s passage, etc. Don’t worry – I’ll spare you.

Instead I’ll tell you that the kid’s been eating like a little piggy these days. (The last three times I served hot dogs, the child ate two and would’ve gone for a third if I’d let him. Yes, hot dogs. Yes, two. Go ahead and judge.) And I’ll tell you that I think there’s at least a little growth spurt of the brain going on, because he’s spurted out a bunch of new vocabulary in the past couple of days. My favorites have been “Chee Chee Boom Boom!” as in a request for the book “Chicka Chicka Boom Boom.” And also “eddy” (empty), as in: (While shaking his sippy cup) “My cup is empty! Get me some more milk, Mom!” or (while slapping his own little bottom) “No, I don’t have a poopy diaper! It’s empty!”

Genius, that kid is.

— 2 —

While I’m on the subject of my boys, I’ve got to share how pleased I am at some new signs of camaraderie around here. As much as toddlers tend to think first and foremost (only?) of themselves, these boys seem to increasingly see themselves as part of a two-man unit.

There’s all the whimpering and sulking from the little guy when we drop his big brother at school. There’s his delight when we return to pick up the big guy. And there seems to be a lot “we” in the three-year-old’s conversations lately. Last night when I asked the boys if they would like an apple, he answered, “We was sinkin’ about dat.” (sinkin’ = thinking)

The other day the little one came to me, held up his leg, and said, “Ot!” I had no idea what he was talking about. “Are you hurt?” I asked. He shook his head. “Are you hot?” No. “Are you sure your leg isn’t hurt?” No.

I was stumped. So my three-year-old came to my aid. He looked over nonchalantly and said, “He wants you to take his socks off.” The little one nodded vigorously.

“Do you understand everything your brother says?” I asked the big guy. “Umm… Yeah,” he said with a little shrug, as if to add, “Of course I do, Mom. Isn’t it obvious?”

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Does this look like camaraderie to you?

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— 3 —

I can’t tell you how excited I am to have this sitting before me:

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Yes, a little ol’ cup of coffee. I love coffee, especially my husband’s freshly-roasted-at-home-every-other-day variety. (Seriously, once you’ve gotten used to home roasted, there’s no going back.) However, with this pregnancy, just like my first, I have had a strong aversion to the stuff. One day I’m savoring my morning cup, the next day the sight of it makes me want to be sick.

Unfortunately, the aversion eventually extended to my standard second: black tea with lots of lovely milk and sugar. And even hot cocoa wasn’t cutting it. Starbucks’ chai lattes were an acceptable replacement until yesterday, when I could no longer stomach even them.

But! All of a sudden, at precisely 12 weeks, coffee started to look more appealing to me. Thank you, 12 weeks! I’ve never had a pregnancy aversion expire with the first trimester, but this one seems to be (hopefully!) doing so. Wahoo! Off to the store to buy some half-and-half. I am so much happier with a warm cup of something in the morning.

— 4 —

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The other day my three-year-old pointed up into these trees and said with delight, “Wook! Dare are fwowers in dose twees!” He’d noticed the uppermost leaves starting to turn. I smiled and shared in his delight and explained to him about leaves changing colors and falling to the ground. It was such a sweet moment.

Later that same day, I listened to this interview with Richard Dawkins on The Diane Rehm Show regarding his new memoir, “An Appetite for Wonder: The Making of a Scientist.” Now, I’m no fan of Mr. Dawkins, but the interview was mostly very interesting and pleasurable to listen to. (I have no problem listening to the ideas and experiences of people who rub me the wrong way. Most ideas interest me to some degree, even if I disagree with them. It’s a certain tone – i.e. hysterics or yelling – that I can’t stand and avoid whenever possible.)

Anyway, the interview included some interesting discussion on wonder, as you might guess from the book’s title. One caller suggested that children have heaps of it, but that adults have none at all, because they’ve been taught to repress it. Or something like that. I’ve heard lots of similar statements before and I’ve always been bewildered by them. Do the people who claim that adults are incapable of wonder really feel no wonder in their own lives? Do they not feel wonder when they stare at their newborn child? Do they not feel it when they take a drive into the mountains? When they see the ocean?

I’m continuously finding wonder in my own life. I may express my wonder differently than my three-year-old does, but I feel it all the same. I find wonder in nature, in my children, in a good read, in the kindness of strangers. When I encounter it, I ponder it and I say a prayer of thanksgiving. I may not shout, “Wow!” but my wonder counts all the same.

— 5 —

Okay, one more light thing before I get into a couple of serious items: I created a Facebook page for the blog yesterday. Hopefully this will turn out way better than my attempt at opening a Twitter account. Then, I (barely) figured out how to open the account, I got precisely three followers, and then I left town on vacation. I haven’t opened the stupid thing since.

I think this little social media push for the blog is likely to go more smoothly, because I at least understand how Facebook works. I use it, in fact. Like, (I won’t admit just how many) times per day. So if you’re on Facebook, I hope you’ll stop on by to “like” my page. I promise to actually use it.

And I’m sure someday I’ll decide to figure out how to use Twitter too. (My biggest hang-up might be that I don’t understand how to get URL’s to go all tiny-like so they fit into a Tweet. Tips, anybody?)

— 6 —

My friend Mary over at Quite Contrary has a great series going on c-sections right now. It’s called “Under the Knife, Under Control: Recovering From a C-Section.” Tuesday she posted an introduction to the series and a description of what it’s like to undergo the procedure. Thursday she posted on helpful preparations for a c-section. Next week she’ll post on logistics and food. If you’ve had a c-section or you’re about to, you’ll find Mary’s series very interesting and helpful.

I certainly found it very interesting, and I’ve never even had the procedure. (And by the way, a lot of Mary’s advice on preparations would be helpful even to those who expect to have a vaginal delivery. So if you’re pregnant, check that one out! I think I’ll be revisiting it around February or March.)

— 7 —

Nearly two months ago, I wrote a little about Nella, who blogs at Is There McDonald’s in Heaven? Nella discovered she had cancer around the same time she discovered she was pregnant with her sixth child. She underwent testing and treatments throughout her pregnancy and ended up delivering prematurely. Thankfully, the baby now seems to be doing well, but Nella’s treatments have continued and intensified since her delivery, and they seem to be catching up with her. Understandably, Nella is tired. On so many levels. In her most recent post, “Where the Rubber Meets the Road,” Nella asks for readers’ prayers.

So much about Nella’s posts are touching and sobering, but I found the following (in “So It Turns Out I Have Cancer”) to be particularly powerful:

You hear a lot about “battling cancer” and “fighting cancer” and I understand what people mean, but that can be a lot of pressure on a patient.  A lot of the “fighting” and “battling” looks and feels like doing nothing.  It’s hard to reconcile all that brawling everyone’s talking about with laying down and sleeping and watching Downton Abbey reruns and reading blogs but that’s really what it is.  Sometimes the battle is really just the battle to sit down and let someone else do the dishes or pack the lunches.  Sometimes the battle is telling yourself to sit down and accept help graciously.

I had never thought about this before. Do we do cancer patients a disservice when we talk about their “battle” or their “fight”? If I were in her position, I think I’d feel just like Nella. It would be hard for me to accept that I needed help. It would be hard for me to agree to let others inconvenience themselves for my sake. I’d try to do too much; I’d try to live my “battle” even in the mundane responsibilities of my life. I’m glad that it’s finally sunk in for Nella that her role in this “battle” is to rest and let her medicine and her body do its important work. I hope that I’d have the strength to do the same.

Please join me in praying for Nella – and for everyone else who’s engaged in that terrible “battle” with cancer. Let’s ask for their comfort and strength. Let’s ask for their patience and their humility to accept the help and the rest they need to heal. Let’s ask for guidance for their caregivers. And let’s all try to give the best support we possibly can to our own loved ones with cancer.

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***

That’s enough for this Friday. Please stop on by Jen’s to check out the rest of the Quick Takes. Oh, and maybe wish us a little luck for the big two-year-old birthday party this weekend? The little guy is oddly averse to singing and the last couple of times he’s heard the “Happy Birthday” song, he’s completely flipped out. We’ll see how far we get into it on Sunday. It should be… interesting. Have a great weekend, everyone.

A Tale of Two Soldiers

When we were in Minnesota last week visiting my husband’s family, we paid a couple of visits to Brennan’s stepfather, Ed, at his nursing home. Ed is the man who taught my husband about responsibility, who provided him with structure and support through his teenage years, who was there for Brennan in the difficult time after his own father passed away. Ed is also a World War II veteran who fought in the Battle of the Bulge and was wounded just days before the war ended.

With my own parents still in their ‘50’s, it was more than a little difficult for me to get used to having a (step)father-in-law who is a member of the “greatest generation.” And I have to admit that, having seen him only once or twice a year for the past six years, I don’t know Ed very well. But I know that my husband loves and respects him. And I know that he has lived a long and interesting life, with his fair share of pain.

Some of it, of course, can be traced to his service in that awful war. Shortly before it ended, Ed found himself in Passau, Germany. In trying to rescue his sergeant, who had been shot, Ed was himself shot in the lung and the arm. He earned the bronze star for his actions. And he has lived with the repercussions of his injuries ever since.

Standing in Ed’s nursing home room during this year’s visit, I was reminded powerfully of an exchange I had with another World War II veteran, 13 years ago. Then, I was sitting on a train platform outside Munich – exhausted, overwhelmed, and anxious – having just arrived hours before – by myself – for a summer studying German at a language institute in Bavaria.

The elderly, frail gentleman was sitting on a bench by himself. I’m sure he could tell I felt lost, looking around for a perch for myself and my unwieldy luggage. He indicated that I should sit next to him. Once it became obvious that I was an American (and quite possibly this was obvious before I even opened my mouth), he started speaking to me in English. We made small talk; I told him about my plans to study German that summer.

After a few minutes chatting cordially, he paused and looked at me intently. He said “An American did this to me.” Turning slightly, he revealed to me the shoulder that I could not, until then, see. It looked like a large chunk of flesh had been carved away from it. His scrawny arm hung lamely at his side. “I saw the man who did it,” he said. “I saw his eyes.”

Lightening his tone somewhat, he continued: “I don’t blame him. We were at war. We were doing what we were told. If he hadn’t shot me, I would have shot him.” (Pause – deathly still pause.) “War is an awful, horrible thing. It is always horrible. Don’t you ever forget that.”

Then, stripping away the tension entirely, the old soldier smiled and told me, “I love America. My wife and I visit New York with friends every year.” Before we parted, he raised his eyebrows at me and said, “Now, as soon as you arrive at your institute, you call your mother. You call your mother. She’ll be worried about you.”

I don’t think I’ll ever forget the experience.

Whenever I see an elderly person, particularly one who looks weak or ill, I wonder what kind of a life they’ve lived. I wonder at the events and the change they must have seen in their lifetime. Whenever I see an old man wearing one of those hats that veterans wear – the kind that denotes the ship they served on – I envision the young, strong man he must have been. I don’t know what to say or do, except to show a little kindness and maybe a little love. I want to ask, but I don’t want to intrude. I want to thank, but I don’t want to sound trite. So mostly I just wonder. And I say a little prayer.

With Ed, I know something of his story. But I still don’t know what to say. So I show some kindness and some love. I give him a hug and a kiss. I encourage the boys to do the same for their “Baba Ed.” Every once in a while, I have the boys color him a picture and we stick it in the mail. And I pray.

I still think of that old German soldier – a veteran of the same war as Ed. The war that forever damaged his shoulder and Ed’s lung. They fought on different sides. Maybe they had different aims, but I think they were probably both just doing what was expected of them. Years later, I get a glimpse of their service in that faraway time, and I wonder. Quite a thing to think about, isn’t it?