Acute toxicity. That’s the best two-word answer to the question “What is the effect of the current state of American national politics?” We’re not even two weeks out from one of the most divisive election cycles ever – certainly within my lifetime – and the discourse has gone from being one of derision for the opposing major=party candidate to out and out nastiness of supporters of one candidate to those of the other.
TLV-C: ceiling exposure limit or maximum exposure concentration that should not be exceeded under any circumstance
Here it is less than two weeks out, and I was actually battling it out online with someone whom I am convinced shares a similar position on social issues as do I because he felt it an acceptable stance to take to simply silence – “disenfranchise out of existence” – voters who would vote for a certain candidate that neither of us supported.
The Vice-President elect was treated to some impromptu commentary by the cast of the play “Hamilton” on Friday night – straight political commentary, which while perhaps not expected in a theater the subject of the chosen play was political after all – and apparently he was unaware that his status as VP-elect changes his ability to attend a play with his family. He was asked to keep an open mind to diversity. On Saturday, the President-Elect demanded an apology.
The Theater must always be a safe and special place.The cast of Hamilton was very rude last night to a very good man, Mike Pence. Apologize!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 19, 2016
Sometimes, even the best of us have to suffer through rudeness. It kind of comes with the territory when you share a ticket with a divisive candidate, whether or not you yourself deserve it. This is politics man, get over it. Everything you do from this point forward is about the politics. Sorry – there are no more simple nights out with the fam.
Clinton supporters are racist. Trump supporters are racist. Hillary is a criminal. The Donald is a crook. Clinton voters can’t seem to understand people could possibly have had legitimate reasons for voting for Trump – he’s a pig, racist, and bigot!! – and Trump voters can’t seem to understand people could possibly have legitimate reasons for voting for Clinton – she’s a criminal, liar, and duplicitous thief! People talking – screaming – past each other without giving themselves a break to do a little introspection and analysis.
Donald is going to have a task in front of him to repair these fractures in the American politic, and frankly I’m not sure Steve Bannon is the guy to help him do that. I’ve voted for President now in 8 elections. I’ve voted for the winner exactly once in all those times, so I’m not exactly unfamiliar with being on the side that doesn’t win, but in almost 30 years of voting, I’ve never seen the electorate so polarized.
In 2008, David Duke if he didn’t “endorse” Obama for President, he came close to doing so. The thinking being that a man of color becoming President of the United States would incite white supremacy to rise up (note how Duke enunciates “Barack”). I submit that Duke may have been right: the Obama Presidency has simultaneously emboldened groups such as Black Lives Matter to stand up and identify social injustice as they see it, and those predisposed to see them as thugs and anti-law.
Trump has emboldened the “alt-right,” white nationalists. More than 8 years after interviewing David Duke, NPR interviewed Joel Pollak, one of the framers of the alt-right and got lit up for “normalizing” racism and hate speech. It’s the liberal left that’s now responding to a Trump electoral victory in the same way Duke imagined neo-cons rising up about the Obama victory. They suggest censorship over critical thought, criticizing NPR for talking to Pollak, because clearly the great unwashed can’t think for themselves. Presenting the ideas is somehow equivalent to “normalizing” them. [As an aside, I love the fact NPR had Michel Martin interview Duke, perhaps an important piece missing from the interview with Pollak].
What we need now is conversation, yet we’re distinctly unable to engage one. Polls projecting a Clinton 4% lead in the popular vote and political sites projecting a 99% chance Clinton would win failed to take into account the rural votes, inadvertently answering the question why they would be so inclined to vote Trump: Trump paid attention to them while the media and the Clinton campaign failed to. Folks, this is the conversation that’s been happening all the long, it’s just that now you’re hearing it for the first time and it’s shocking as hell to you. You made the same mistake the media did – you haven’t been listening.
Rule #5 of Franklin Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Successful People – Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Let’s listen to each other just a little bit, before we decide the other is a bunch of racists, or bigots, or anything else. There are legitimate reasons a person of good faith and fair dealing would vote for Trump that aren’t that they don’t like the LGBT+ community. There are legitimate reasons a person of good faith and fair dealing would vote for Clinton other than that they don’t care about improprieties and opacity.
Most Trump voters aren’t out to overturn civil rights and most Clinton voters aren’t out to take all of your money. Maybe we should listen more to each other because in reality these two candidates are about as alike as the election would suggest: Trump 47%, Clinton 48%. Spend your time being angry, and you’re just a reactionary – whether your candidate won or not. If you really care about the state of the country, you’re engaging conversation, not antagonizing it.
Life itself is a process of navigation. Sometimes we successfully navigate the beacons, sometimes we don’t. Thankfully, in most of life’s endeavors there’s a pretty significant fudge factor. Imagine if life were strictly a journey from place to place: in order to get to where you’re going you have to be exactly on point and the slightest deviation will put you a significant distance away. If you have a 1-degree variance from your intended destination, over 500 miles you’d be more than 8-miles off track. 1-degree! And that’s if you know where you’re going. If you don’t have a goal, and just roll with whichever way the wind blows, you’re liable to wake up someday wondering where all the time went and why you haven’t accomplished anything you expected to.
Oftentimes though, the carefully planned path is overly rigid. Sometimes you want to take a detour and see what else might lie beyond. Plan that path too carefully, you’re liable to wake up someday and wonder about the path not taken. If your path requires 100% accuracy – perhaps your assumptions are a little too exact, or require full control over extraneous variables for which there is no way you could possibly account – you’re likely to be very disappointed.
And then there’s all the in-between. All the space between drifting without a goal and being overly structured. That’s where I’m thinking about when I say it’s a process of navigation. It’s the voyage toward the ideal goal along the charted path there. My life has taken some twists I hadn’t planned for, but sometimes resiliency is the better navigator. It’s getting by the obstacles that get in your way. It’s about having a destination in mind, but being flexible enough that one, or two, or more roadblocks won’t drive you off course. It’s about paying attention to how much variance is acceptable and how firm your end goal is: maybe you’re 5-degrees off course but you realize that you’re enjoying where you’re going and decide the heading you’re on is better than the one on which you had planned. Without that reality check, you wind up somewhere completely different than your expectations.
An article in The Atlantic suggests that the conventional wisdom that with age comes increasing happiness, is changing. The author posits a couple of different potential reasons for this; the rise of individualism, an absence of emotional bonds. I’m going to posit my own. We spend an inordinate amount of time planning and setting expectations. The generations coming to middle age and beyond now were raised with the expectation that they would do better economically than their parents; and it turns out this may not be so. It’s about navigating the definition of happiness. We spend a lot of time alone, but very little time in introspection. We know what we want to do, but we’re planning to get there instead of enjoying the here and now. We have more capacity to touch more people, but less capacity for those meaningful relationships. We have the knowledge of the entirety of human history at our fingertips, yet our work often needs little more information than how to press a button. We give ourselves little wiggle room, and in our highly structured lives, we forget that resiliency matters.
I’m gettin’ paid by the hour, an’ older by the minute.
My boss just pushed me over the limit.
I’d like to call him somethin’,
I think I’ll just call it a day.
That said, the substantive body of generational and of “happiness” research suggests we do become happier as we get older. The dawning of middle age was difficult for me. I took a hard correction in course, really thought about what I wasn’t getting out of life, and reset what those expectations were. What I didn’t do was decide it was all crap and throw it in the trash.
I started this post literally more than 4 years ago. I have little doubt the direction it would have taken then would be substantially different than where I am today. I cannot remember a time when I have felt more empowered by having a goal, having built a plan with a significant fudge factor in it, and working that plan. I’m happy with my work; I have a meaningful career I worked hard to cultivate and got lucky to have been in a few right places when it mattered. I never grew up with a plan of what I wanted to do, I was however one of the lucky ones who found something I was interested in early and followed that path.
So how does one keep it between the navigational beacons? By keeping the channel wide, by paying attention to the general direction, knowing what the journey generally should look like, and keeping tabs on where we are along the journey. By finding meaning in what we do every day, instead of finding meaning in the ultimate goal. The goal isn’t worth getting to if the journey isn’t worth having.
Over the last 28 days, I’ve explored 27 different stories, themes, principles and acts I find inspirational. These things, people, ideas help me want to be a better me. I would love to report to you, dear reader, that I always succeed in that endeavor, but alas I do not. Nor, I think, do most people. There is ALWAYS room to grow and change and be better. This isn’t an exercise for the young, it’s an exercise for the living.
I’ve endeavored to take what I found to be a Presidential election race devoid of inspiration, and to find some for myself with the hope that by sharing these pieces of daily inspiration I could help influence someone, anyone to grow and change and be better no matter to what degree. It’s been a remarkably fulfilling journey for me: I’ve spent the last month literally working to see the good in situations, seeking out stories I could discuss, culling life lessons from less than ideal situations. It forces a shift in perspective. I’ve learned that there really is plenty of good out there, an amazing amount of inspiration in the every day if only you look and WANT to see it.
Thus, for my last entry in this series, I want to share with you what I consider to be one of the most selfless, life affirming and loving things anyone can do for another person.
Families By Choice: The DiBonas, Servellos, Sheilds’, Shapiros
On Day 12, I shared the idea of Foster Parenting as a support and a hand up for kids who may not have another shot. Kids so disadvantaged they have no idea where they’re going to sleep otherwise, where they’re going to go to school, where they have someone who legitimately cares for them. It’s a caring and often thankless avocation.
On Day 28, though, I want to share with you the people who take another person into their lives, and make them their own. Adopting a child, taking another person into your life and home, and binding them to you as a member of your family has to be one of the most amazing, loving things a family can do for another human being.
The adoption journey is a different one for every family that goes through it. I’m fortunate to have close friends and people I’ve known since I was a child – maybe even grew up together – who have taken this step. They’re all inspirational people with inspirational stories, so much so I couldn’t just focus on one and felt singling each out on their own day would miss the mark. They’re inspirational stories not only because they share the ultimate goal of accepting someone into their family, but because they all had to accept their futures weren’t necessarily theirs to decide – they were at the whim of the fates to which they submitted themselves.
Michael and Julie DiBona shared with me that while having a family was something they always wanted – indeed ever since she was a little girl Julie wanted to adopt a child – time just kind of got away from them. We’ve shared some challenges together, and we’ve shared positives together – that’s kind of what friendship is, I guess – so when they asked me to write a reference letter for their adoption effort, I was humbled that I was chosen to help them in completing their family; even more humbled when I could help notarize their documents at some weird hour as they were preparing their trip across country.
Outside of a couple of minor false alarms, it was a matter of waiting for them. Then on one random day, a call came. There was a birth mother that had chosen them…but they had to decide more or less now. Within 24 hours they had started their plans in motion – kitty care, airline tickets, everything – and were en route to Texas. With so much that could conceivably go wrong, everything went right.
The birth mom of their beautiful little girl had them in the delivery room, had them cut the umbilical cord, they were the first to hold her. They had planned for this moment, organized their lives around this moment, and after a frenzied 12-hour dash to the finish line, their story book was ready.
Compare Debbie and Sean Shields’ story. They tried to build their family through egg donation and through three attempts, and they made the decision to adopt. Their adoption journey was no less harrowing. They had their share of failed matches when they got the call, much like Michael and Julie, that they should go to California.
Its there, though, that their stories diverge. After welcoming and accepting this newborn into their lives, the birth mother changed her mind. The story is unknown as to how that will work out for that family, one hopes it was ultimately the right decision, although one can only think about the family they know and can only feel the empathy and pain they must have felt on that lonely flight home.
Upon reflection, they came to the decision that upon the expiration of their home study, they would not seek to renew their application. Yet, fate intervened. An email the day after they had decided they would no longer hold out hope of a midnight phone call, informed them there had been a baby boy born a day prior and they could be under consideration. Perhaps a bit defeated from previous experience, and some delay between the two of them, they learned from the agency that their profile had been submitted even without their having decided – and the mom had chosen them.
After having come so close an entire continent away, their baby awaited them two hours away on the other side of the state – one of the small north east states. The birth parents signed the paperwork 72 hours after the baby boy was born – mom had discharged herself from the hospital by the time they arrived. To have Debbie tell it, they had gone to work on Wednesday a couple and on Monday they were a family of 3.
Unlike the surprise call Michael and Julie received, or the heart-wrenching false alarms Debbie and Sean had to experience before their families were complete, Chrissy Shapiro already had a son when she and her husband David married and began their journey to grow their family. After several miscarriages, and IVF, they welcomed their daughter to their family. After some consideration, though, it became apparent that their daughter’s life would be enriched by having a sibling closer in age. David, having been adopted himself, suggested that as an option to further their already blended family. They chose to adopt internationally and their initial excitement quickly evolved to confusion, sadness and guilt.
Beyond the considerations of choosing a world of children looking for a family, they had more than a few stumbling blocks: In India, they couldn’t adopt because they were both previously divorced; in Columbia we couldn’t adopt because David was 40 . They were finally left with Ethiopia and Guatamala. At that time, there was concern with children being abducted and put up for adoption in Guatamala, so Ethiopia was the choice by default, but perhaps that was because there was a child for them that needed them more than anyone else in this world.
11-months after their agency meeting, they were matched with a one month old male who was abandoned and wrapped in a yellow and black blanket under a bush. Today their son thrives in their suburban community – consider what life may have had to offer him as an abandoned baby half a world away.
Diana and Sergio Servello had similar but not the same journey; theirs was built on faith. Before they were married they talked about adopting children – Diana herself was adopted. They had 3 biological children when they decided the time was right to adopt. Our other families were seeking babies, infants to join their families. Diana and Sergio were looking for an older child – specifically they did not want a 2-year old in diapers because their youngest was 12, so they were looking for someone 5-8. They were rewarded with their two year old in diapers. Diana tells her family’s story through the lens of faith in God, the God that has given her and Sergio 7 children – biological and adopted – between the ages of 3 and 23 in a large racially blended family. In so doing, they have affected the lives of their own biological children and the lives of these children they didn’t have to know to love.
Today would have been Michael’s father’s birthday – the man in whose memory he went forward to take on the challenge of fatherhood.
So much influence and inspiration from so many places; and most of all their own families. Different journeys, different circumstances, but the same result. Children who may have otherwise had few others, if anyone at all, to love them and help them fulfill their potential, have found solid loving families. Children from across the state, across the country, across the world. Babies. Older kids. The common theme is a desire for family – that connection with and between another person. Some of the parents here were adopted themselves – giving back to the universe that gave to them. And so the story of kindness and giving and love continues in their adult families.
Their families have chosen them and given them all the greatest possible gift a person can give another – Love. In a world where it’s so easy to see the negative and the worst in human nature, where we see families pulled apart and in need, it’s so important to take a step back and see how special family is – so special in fact these families wanted to share it with someone who may not have had one without them.
As it happens, November is adoption month. Take some time and learn some more about adoption.
She was an Islamic scholar and set the precedent of modern African feminism. She had the advantage of being the daughter of one of the most powerful men in one of the most powerful caliphates in the region, but she made the most of the opportunity to empower women. She leveraged her considerable intellect to create educational opportunities and careers for women that still exist.
She was a princess, but she spent her life educating women – Muslim and non-Muslim, wealthy and poor. She was an adviser to her father, and believed that seeking education was a religious duty of both men and women and that to deny women this right was to challenge the will of God.
As an educator, she wanted her people to be as educated as possible, and trained other women to help her do this. She wrote instructive poems that the teachers would memorize and then pass on to their students in the villages to which they traveled. These women wore distinctive clothes identifying them as trained teachers, and they were to receive the highest respect while instructing both men and women on general as well as religious topics. As these teachers walked the country-side – enduring harsh environments to do so – they were empowering the citizenry with knowledge in a time of turbulence and war. To be sure, if women were educated they could then pass along knowledge to their families. Women in Nigeria were literate at a time when universal literacy was unheard of.
150 years ago (she lived 1793-1864), she was leading a cause for educating the masses and specifically women. Those in The West who know of her, recognize her as an early feminist. West African Muslims praise her efforts in augmenting the rights of women to learn and be active members in society. She chose to spend her life advocating for women’s right to education – indeed, she saw it as a tenant of Islam that women should be educated, and should know how to read.
He didn’t know he wasn’t supposed to be able to run a 544 mile ultra-marathon. Hell, he was a potato farmer – what did he know about endurance running? He showed up one day at the starting line of an 875K race and won.
In fact, he took significant time off the world record for similar races. He was 61-years old in 1983 when he won this race. Take a look at my times this year, I haven’t come close to winning a solo race of any distance. He didn’t just win, he CRUSHED it. 544-miles at aged 61. I’ve spent the past year running races, slowly building up distance from a 5k in February to a half-marathon in October. I’ve run training runs, pushed myself as much as I can. Cliff Young ran the inaugural Westfield Sydney to Melbourne Ultra-marathon…and won. I must be a loser – I’ve been running my butt off this year and I’m struggling to get mediocre times on some fairly modest courses.
The lore will have you believe he’d never run, just strolled up to the starting line – oblivious to the challenge ahead of him – wearing overalls and rubber boots. A real naif. He didn’t understand ultra running so he didn’t know he was supposed to run for 18 hours and sleep for 6. A great story to be sure. But incomplete at best, and misleading at worst. Take a look at the video below.
So far as I can tell, he really WASN’T a runner and he really WAS a farmer.
But this wasn’t his first attempt; he didn’t just show up and decide to run. Perhaps in 1982 when he attempted a 1,000 mile effort one could argue he had no clue – after all then he had only trained for a few months. Upon failing half way through he wrote he and his support team were inexperienced. You don’t just stroll up to a starting line in work boots and spend 6 days running a 550-mile race without having done SOME work. In this case he had been training. He knew the challenge before him. He had a plan and he worked that plan.
Merriam-Webster defines “Inspiration” as “something that makes someone want to do something or that gives someone an idea about what to do or create : a force or influence that inspires someone.” I tend to think watching the results of another’s hard work and effort toward a goal is far more inspirational than hearing a story that’s been sanitized, cleaned up and repackaged. Cliff was ridiculously inspirational but not because he showed up one day out of the blue and laid waste to a field of other runners en route to finishing an ultra-marathon, but because he worked his ass off as a 60-year old to position himself to be able to do that.
He wasn’t some rube fresh off the farm who decided to run an endurance course because he had time on his calendar. He planned this. He worked for this. It’s unlikely that a 61-year old man is going to win an ultra marathon, but that’s the inspirational part of it. He worked and trained. We don’t need to embellish the story; we don’t have to make up or gloss over the reality. The facts are remarkable on their own.
Be inspired because he had a goal, worked his ass off for it and made it happen. There’s nothing inspirational about flukes or luck; there’s everything inspirational about someone deciding they’ve got a goal that they’re going to make happen. Cliff’s story makes for a great tell, but bear in mind his wasn’t the story of unexpected glory, his was the story of hard work paying off.
Setting Goals, Working Plans
One of the truisms of New Years’ resolutions is that they’re hardly ever met. We’ve all heard the maxim that it takes 21-Days to form a habit that sticks. If I can make my January 1 workout routine stick for three weeks, I’m gold.
Well, it takes about three times that amount of time. So it’s day 22 and you really don’t feel like going to the gym, by you’ve done it for 21 days so it’s okay to skip a day… and pretty soon you’re not going. If 21 days were the gold standard, I wouldn’t be pumping out Day 25 of my daily inspirations no less than 7 hours too late to get it in on the proper day.
I’ve found it exceedingly important to set goals for myself that require a plan: I’m going to run 46 races this year, I’m going to go back to school and earn an MBA, whatever. I find that I’m often too conservative with my plans: I hit 46 races in August, meaning I had 4 more months to run races; I finished my MBA a semester ahead of when I planned. That’s fine though, its the goal that’s important and having a target to shoot at. Once the goal is set, and I communicate it out to hold myself accountable, there’s only the plan for how it’s going to happen left
I think of it this way: if I don’t already know how to get somewhere, I have to have help getting there – a map, a gps, a friend who does know the way. If I haven’t built the habit, I need to chart out what I need to do to reach my goal.
When I get those goals set, I start working the plan. This works great for things I DO want to do, but it’s particularly important when I don’t want to do things. To this point, the inspiration to more frequently do laundry or make the bed just isn’t there, but these things have to get done. I haven’t been able to inspire myself enough to get a goal around these, but I know if I do it’ll get done. I would like to be better about doing things I don’t want to do, and perhaps that will be my next goal.
If you don’t have a habit – remember, throw that 21-day jive out the window – you’re going to need a goal, and a plan to get to that goal, and the commitment to work the plan. It’s easy to fail, it’s ridiculously easy to back pedal or go off course. Good plans will help you recover. A solid relationship with yourself will help you decide if you can commit to a goal – if you REALLY want to achieve that goal.
On July 29, 2006 a chartered skydiving plane experienced engine failure and began a fall to earth with eight people on board. The plane crashed, killing 6 of the people on board – one of whom was 22-year old instructor Robert Cook.
According to ABC News, there is an average of five small plane crashes each day, resulting in approximately 500 deaths annually. Obviously the numbers vary from year to year but the over arching theme is that it’s not infrequent a small plane of this kind crashes – it happens every day – nor, sadly, is it infrequent someone dies in a crash. What is infrequent is that a survivor can tell the tale of someone like Robert Cook.
Kimberly Dear was on the plane to do a tandem jump with Robert, and as such was harnessed in with him. She reports that when he realized the plane was going to crash, he harnessed her to him, and held her to his body.
A few days after the crash, her father reported to a local newspaper that:
“He said to her: ‘As the plane is about to hit the ground, make sure you’re on top of me so that I’ll take the force of the impact.’
“The plane actually hit, they believe, a power pole or a power line and it went into a vertical situation, and she became a little bit disoriented, but she felt Robert actually twist his body around until Kim was on top of him and when the plane hit the ground.”
“He took the full force of the impact.”
They had just met that day – she was on vacation from Australia and he was on the planet to instruct others how to skydive. Yet, he made sure she was going to survive the crash. Who knows, maybe he knew there was no way he was going to survive. Maybe he thought this was his best chance of survival. Maybe his training kicked in. Or maybe, just maybe, he did what he believed was the right thing to do: to protect someone else from as much harm as possible. He voluntarily gave his life – by any account I could find – so that someone else could live. In March of 2008, the Australian government awarded him The Star of Courage, an honor for conspicuous bravery in times of peril usually reserved for Australians but is also awarded to foreign nationals acting on behalf of an Australian and is ranked second in the Australian civil bravery decorations in the Australian Honours System.
It took years of rehabilitation, and her body was severely broken, but her spine was not. She learned to walk again and lived her life. She married and started a family because of this man she had met only hours before a fateful plane crash protected her and allowed her to continue living her life.
75th Anniversary Reunion of the Battle of Gettysburg
Last night the Chicago Cubs erased a 108-year championship drought in the 10th inning of game 7 of the World Series in Cleveland. This effectively passed the torch of longest active championship droughts from the 1908 Chicago Cubs to the 1948 Cleveland Indians.
Just 5 years after the Cubs last World title, there was a gathering of Civil War veterans at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania for the 50th Anniversary of the battle. There was consternation as to what may transpire when the some 53,000 veterans of the war – now aged men – from 46 states came together to mark the occasion. However, according to the event’s Wikipedia page: “the peaceful reunion was repeatedly marked by events of Union–Confederate camaraderie.President Woodrow Wilson’s July 4 reunion address summarized the spirit: “We have found one another again as brothers and comrades in arms, enemies no longer, generous friends rather, our battles long past, the quarrel forgotten—except that we shall not forget the splendid valor.”
Twenty-five years later, there was one final reunion in 1938 for the 75th Anniversary of the battle. My dad was a 7-year old boy. I let that sink in from time to time; that my father was a little boy at a time civil war veterans – however few – still carried with them a time when the fate of this country was less than secure.
The ensuing 25-years reduced the number of gathered civil war veterans from 53,000 to about 2000. In 1913 there were about 8000 Confederate soldiers in attendance now there was an estimated 8000 total living veterans of the war – only about 70 gathered had actually fought at the battle of Gettysburg.
The veterans average age was 94 and they began arriving June 29 in 12 special Pullman trains. Not on veteran died en route to the gathering, but two or three died before the celebration closed and five more passed away making their way home. It was apparently important for them to be there, at that place, one last time.
And this gets me to my point: it’s important to us as human beings to share experiences with others, it’s important to us to have goals and to have a meaning beyond ourselves. It was somehow spiritually important to these men 50-years after fighting each other to come together and recognize the nation that remained. It was important to share this common bond with others, even those who were on the opposite side of the conflict, and it was more important to share it than it was to have been on the victorious side. It was more important to come together than to be “right.” 2000 veterans of 8000 still living – that’s a commitment beyond oneself. 90-year old men coming together for closure and for the historic record. Above all, the healing for the good of the county – just one more time. For me, this event stands for the proposition that despite differences, despite having faced each other in anger, several times over the course of that 75 year period, these men gathered together to reflect on their service to their respective armies, and to bond together as brothers once again. Time sometimes does heal old wounds, but the desire has to be there – as it was here.
It’s important to take those steps while you can. By the end of August 1956, 7-champions after the Cleveland Indians had last won the World Series, the last of the civil war veterans had passed on: the last verifiable Confederate, Pleasant Crump, passed away on the last day of 1951, and the last surviving Union soldier Albert Woolson passed away August 2, 1956.
Witold Pilecki Auschwitz Prisoner 4859
Unless you’re a particularly studious student of the second World War, you’ve not likely heard the name Witold Pilecki. He was a Polish solider who was executed in 1948 for espionage and his story was largely supressed by the Polish government until 1989. If you’re particularly astute, you’ll remember the Communist hold on Poland collapsed in 1989.
“The underground army was completely in disbelief about the horrors,” Storozynski explains. “About ovens, about gas chambers, about injections to murder people — people didn’t believe him. They thought he was exaggerating.”
While his trial was largely a kangaroo court with a predetermined outcome, he after all WAS a foreign agent if you’re a 1940’s Stalinist – he remained loyal to the Polish government in exile – and given that the Stalinists did take over Poland for the better part of 50 years, if that had been all Pilecki had done I would still consider him to be an inspirational character; giving one’s life for the greater good while resisting injustice is always going to be a call for selflessness and to be better, which is a good reason despots wish to quash such rebellion.
But he had a greater role in the history of the 1940’s and indeed arguably saved the lives of millions of people.
Pilecki created a plan by which he would be incarcerated in the Auschwitz concentration camp and would then report back what was happening. It was through his work the world outside the Nazi diaspora learned that these were in fact not internment camps, but rather death camps. While he was there, he joined an underground movement, built a radio transmitter built from smuggled parts, reported to the Polish resistance what the camp was, number of prisoners, conditions, and more. After three years of backbreaking work, he managed to break out of Auschwitz, with documents stolen from the Nazis in his possession.
I’ve been trying to live my life so that in the hour of my death I would rather feel joy, than fear.
— After the announcement of the death sentence, Bartłomiej Kuraś, Witold Pilecki – w Auschwitzu z własnej woli, „Ale Historia”, w: „Gazeta Wyborcza”, 22 kwietnia 2013.
Consider that he was a highly skilled operative who used his skills to build morale among the prisoners, and to provide the Polish government the information it would need to first defeat the Nazis, then the Communists, with the hope of returning to power. When it became clear that the post-war would not see the return of the exiled government, he was ordered to cease his information gathering on the Communists and escape – orders he declined and was ultimately arrested. He was tortured, but never revealed information on his fellow operatives.
Clearly he was a patriot of Free Poland, but because of his heroism, the world learned of what was happening in Nazi Germany, and galvanized the world against such heinous acts…by volunteering to be imprisoned.