Lately, I’ve been thinking about death. And living. And the dash in between the years on a gravestone.
Maybe it’s because I’ve been reading a lot of obituaries from World War II vets and their letters to the RF Journal as they wrote home from England, France, Germany and Italy. Maybe it’s because there seem to be some tough deaths recently in the small town of RF.
Either way, I’ve been thinking about how as we live, we are building our own obituaries. And as I’m reading these old clippings, I’m wondering, what do people remember about us after we’re gone?
I’m kind of a superstitious person and nervous as I’m typing this, but still, it’s on my mind.
My Uncle Woody gifted me with a scrapbook of journal articles his mom had collected from the early 1940s. It has pages of articles and pictures of local men who were drafted for World War II, many of them straight out of varsity school ball, hardly eighteen. Reading these, it makes me realize how trivial most of our issues are.
I made the mistake of reading the articles and letters-to-the editor in order. I began to really like these men’s personalities, almost like a Facebook friend. You hear about their struggles, their barbs, their life from overseas as they write letters to the River Falls Journal. A few pages later, their obituaries stare me in the face and I realize that a few pages back, they had no idea what was to come.
None of us do.
These men and women did SO much for us. They still do today. Their stories could sell millions of best-selling books, but that isn’t what drove them. They loved their country and their families and couldn’t bear to think about the consequences of either the Nazi Regime or the Japanese Imperial Army taking over the world as they were spreading across Europe.
So these farm boys and athletes straight out of high school, took up the cause and went to the pits of Hell to fight a war for us over several years. They saw unimaginable things and felt unimaginable losses as they watched their friends die and longed for home. And here we are, a few generations later, far removed from the painful loss as a community of so many young people. So many classmates over a short span of a few years.
So what do we remember of them? How are we living our lives to honor the sacrifices they made for us?
I don’t know the answer, but in thinking of the close people I’ve lost in my life, above all, I always remember how they made me feel when I was with them. Even as I rack my brain to pull out specific memories (I have a HORRIBLE memory, by the way) I end up smiling when thinking about how they made me feel.
That’s when I realize that for me, it’s not necessarily the accomplishments that make a person’s life important, but how they made people feel when they were around them. It boils down to a feeling.
So I ask myself and ask our kids: how do people feel when they are around you? Do you smile? Do you look people in the eyes and pay attention to what they’re saying? Do you include them in your conversations/group? Do they feel included? Do they know they are important in how you treat them? Do they know they are important in general, even if you don’t know them (smile!).
This thought makes me feel hopeful. It makes me realize that I don’t necessarily have to accomplish huge things, even if I want to and strive to, but I just have to work hard to pay attention to people. That’s what will matter in the end. That’s what people will remember, is how we make them feel.
It’s a feeling.
So, even when people don’t smile back (some don’t), I try to remember that I have no idea what they are going through or what kind of pain they are carrying and some days, it is tough to smile (those are days I try and avoid people all together) and I remind myself to see them in God’s light.
The following is part of a from a River Falls WWII soldier describing a concentration camp they’d liberated: