On a spring morning in 1945, two American Army tanks were ordered to leave the battalion to go east of their route to check out a train from which some emaciated Finnish soldiers had escaped. Imagine for a second going down a narrow road in the remote countryside and seeing ahead on the railroad tracks, the shocking sight of stalled boxcar after boxcar packed with more than 2,500 skeletally thin men, women and children on their way to a death camp. Imagine being one of the American soldiers when these desperate people suddenly realized they were being rescued from their fate and that their German captors had thrown down their weapons and fled. During that night, those too frill and sick to survive were being laid on the hillside. And the same night, the infantrymen stood in front of the tank as a long line of men, women and children formed spontaneously to greet and introduce themselves to their rescuers. As desperately as these poor people had suffered unspeakable horror and torture, in their hearts they were still capable of resurrecting gratitude and the fortitude to stand in front of an unknown soldier, look into one another’s eyes, human to human and connect. “My name is ___. I’m a Polish Jew from Hungary.” Then the next in line and the next. One of the women, Gina Rappaport, who had spent years in the ghettos of Warsaw and Bergen-Belsen knew this trim was the end of the road. She had stepped forward to interpret for the others. It goes without saying that the American soldiers’ lives were forever altered.
All this because one man, Major Clarence Benjamin had trusted his intuition after seeing the starving Finnish soldiers and altered his route. And because of that, families were reunited, children grew up to live their dreams, and infantrymen participated in a story of a lifetime that today you and I get to know.
The next morning while waving goodbye, Sgt. George Gross recalled stopping his tank, and ran back and hugged Miss Rappaport in what he says was his gesture intended to ask forgiveness for Hitler’s cruelty and wishing all of them a happy future. This brought me to tears. Any seemingly small ‘gesture’ can change the direction of thousands.
In this time of year we see vast swings of emotion in technicolor. We receive the onslaught of flyers in the mail asking for money for the less fortunate, we are encouraged to spend vast sums on gifts, the media is creating the maelstrom of fear of our enemies at home and abroad, Washington seems to care less, and then we look at magazines at the checkout stand reminding us of spectacular holiday events/outfits/sumptuous meals/lavish decorations that don’t come close to the ordinary lives we lead. Or, we watch all this happen feeling left out and marginalized.
I’m taking a deep breath and latching on to the one thing most important. Kindness. I don’t want to fly through life anymore and have important birthdays escape me, post-its lining my monitor of unending incompletions, postponed time with best friends, fretting over insignificant things that never happen anyway, when what I want most is meaning. Deep rewarding meaning. It’s triumphant to master a string of guitar chords, to pat myself on the back for a finished artwork or to organize an immaculate home. But what moves my soul is that moment in time in human connection, heart to heart. My brother, a neighbor, a stranger, a child. A surprise. An anonymous gift. A promise kept.
Life is a feedback loop. What goes around comes back. What I expect to have happen, does. It’s basic physics actually. The observer of the experiment has an effect on its outcome. What you dwell on seems to pick up speed. Good and not so good. What I believe about the ‘other side of the planet’ gets reflected back to me. How I honor my body, my environment, everything everything everything circles back. So dear friend, take care of you. Take care of your thoughts and emotions. Are they making you happier or sending you down that rabbit hole? Take care of those you’re related to and those you aren’t. A web will be created that surrounds all of us in that intention of kindness. You, my friends are a treasure in my life. I imagine you sitting across the table from me and wish we could just love and laugh. Give yourself a little sweet pep talk that my dear daughter Jolie will help you with and watch your life reflect back to you the deepest meaning you came here for in the first place!
I love you!
P.S. Watch this, it’s awesome and I’m a new raving fan!
P.P.S. I was told this story by a friend last week whose colleague’s father, Sgt. Gross, manned one of these tanks. If you want to read more of the story, click here.