1968 was a tough year. Earthquakes and wars left the world unsettled. Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia. Our own county erupted in riots; Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated. Viet Nam dominated the evening news with body counts.
1968 was a tough year for my family too. My dad had died the year before and my mom and I moved. Both my brothers were serving in Viet Nam. My mom glued herself to the news each night to try to understand what was happening.
I was oblivious to my mom’s emotional plight. Wrapped up in my senior year of high school, I made plans to head off next year for the new exciting world of college. I look back on that year now and just can’t imagine how empty her world was - her sons in war, empty nest looming and struggling with being a widow.
I never heard my mom complain. She survived.
Sometimes tough times are just plain “get through” times.
For our local newspaper I interview the men and women who go on “Honor Flights,” the group flying veterans to Washington DC to see the new WWII monument plus the other memorials around the mall. They are welcomed at Dulles Airport like the war heroes they are with bands, balloons, gifts and a large crowds of cheering people. This is repeated when they return home to their home airport.
Special efforts are being made to get the dwindling number of WWII vets on this trip.
We honor and thank them for their service.
Most I have talked with were 17, 18 or 19 when they were drafted or enlisted because they were going to be drafted. Many didn’t finish high school because of the war. One told me four of his five brothers were serving at the same time and his mom just hated war. Another told me he wanted the Navy, but the sergeant stamped his paper with Army. Little options. Tough time.
They don't complain about that time in their lives. They survived.
Again it is appropriate to thank them, but isn’t there a smidgeon of irony that we are honoring a tough time that they had no control over nor really any choice whether to participate or not?
They didn’t choose war. My mom didn’t choose widowhood.
Isn’t that true of our difficult times in life? Life just plain isn’t fair or fun sometimes. Unmanageable events pounce upon us throwing into wild, unruly chaos. Curveballs disrupt our nice neat plans. We feel vulnerable, exposed and insecure.
At the time we can’t see if anything of value will ever emerge.
But it is in the looking back, we find life does go on and lessons surface.
I think about my mom and learn courage under fire and love that never ends.
I listen to the veterans and thank them for protecting my freedom. What a privilege to hear their stories.
And I learn. Each year, no matter when: 1944, 1968, or even 2012 carries the seeds of lessons.
Tough times build our capacity to go on, to persevere, to become better people. We survive. We learn these tough lessons in tough times when we reflect and listen.
Adversity is a fact of life. It can’t be controlled. What we can control is how we react to it. – Unknown
“We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.”
“Within tears, find hidden laughter. Seek treasures amid ruins, sincere one.”
What do you think tough times teach?