We are spending some blissful, relaxing time at home on Memorial Day. The horses are grazing happily in the pasture. The sun is shining on the peonies that are about to open any minute and spread their lush, heady scent across the yard and into our windows. We are so lucky.
So, my thoughts go to those people who are in places like Syria or Afghanistan or the Sudan, where children and many brave souls are dying in wars. Both my parents fought in World War II. My dad never spoke of how it felt to slip behind enemy lines as a young American officer and help organize the Resistance. In noticeable contrast, my mother talked to me about her war experiences as the only woman in the Polish parachute brigade all the time, and even now, at 97 years old, still wakes up screaming at night with haunting visions of what she lived through. I recently finished writing a book about her life, using interviews I did over the years with her, so she could leave a legacy of her story for my daughter and future generations in her own words.
In honor of her bravery, I want to share one of the incidents she describes:
“In Holland, there were a lot of snipers, and Queen Wilhemina welcomed the Germans. Not one bomb was dropped, so the buildings were not damaged, but there were lots of snipers. The poor men, who were out on the Frontline were out of cigarettes. I was the welfare officer, and I had started a canteen with coffee, cigarettes and chocolate. So I asked my driver, who was Jewish, if we could both get on his motorcycle and bring some things to the men. He said, “Lieutenant, if you want to go, I’ll go with you.” Some of the men when they saw me said, “See I told you, the devil couldn’t make it through, but a woman did.” That was a compliment. But they were so glad to see us.”
I used to think that my mother was fearless, but I’ve come to realize that she did what she did even though she was often totally terrified. I’ve been reading some of Alice Walker’s writing, and one thing that she says really touches me: “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” My mother understood this deep in her bones, and she still is able each day to find her power and carry on. Millions of people who are in terrible circumstances do, and that is what makes them heroes. Today, let’s take a moment to appreciate them.