Sunday, December 11, 2016

Observing

An eight hour layover in Honolulu airport. It might have been unbearable had it not been for my laptop, a good book, endless walking space, and people. When I kept seeing groups of teenagers (in groups of a hundred or more), in look-alike t-shirts, with all that teenage angst and energy, I was curious as to what was up. School was still in session and they were in Hawaii?

"Hi, why are all of you here?" I asked a young girl who was only slightly cautious of talking to a stranger.

"We're a high school band and we came to play at the 75th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor bombing."

"Oh."

"You know," a reserved tone takes over her voice, "there aren't many of them left."

Survivors.

She understands the privilege of having been at a special place, at a special time. She witnessed the venue and the testimonies of those who endured the surprise attack. She heard their sacrifices to save others and to defend the United States. She even heard the head of the US Pacific Command address a controversial issue in 2016. Ninety-seven year old Admiral Harry B. Harris Jr., said, "You can bet that the men and women that we honor today--and those who died that fateful morning 75 years ago--never took a knee and never failed to stand whenever they heard our national anthem being played."

I was filled with admiration for the band leaders who trekked across the Pacific with hoards of teens, instruments, chaperones, and suitcases. They saw the vision, the importance of participating in a historic moment. Again.

Once on the plane, I too opened my eyes, to the possibility that I was surrounded by WWII Pearl Harbor Veterans. The news had reported that hundreds of veterans had returned for the occasion. Yes, there seemed to be quite a few gentlemen with white hair and time wrinkled faces. A man ahead of me was more bold and asked, "Are you a Pearl Harbor Vet?" The man smiled and shook his head yes.

Years ago, Tony and I attended a play about a young man and his friends who had defied the Nazis in their town. At the peril of their lives, they listened to the BBC and were determined to get out the truth. They published the Nazi atrocities and placed them in restaurant menus and phone booths. For their crimes, one was murdered, and another was sent to a hard labor camp. 

As we watched the play, I noticed quite a few old people in the audience. When the play ended, the audience learned that one of the characters was sitting in the audience. What stories he had lived.

That night my perspective changed. I am constantly in the company of people. Old, young, foreign, well-known and unknown, and everyone has a story. It may not be as historic as having been in Pearl Harbor or having been a martyr in WWII Germany. But the story of a person's life is always as important as the next person's story. It has made me a seeker of stories, deepened my appreciation of hardship, and helped me become a good listener. That combination--has tremendously enriched my life.