Albert Einstein once said, “A hundred times every day I remind myself that my inner and outer life depends on the labors of other men, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the measure as I have received and am still receiving.” Einstein was one of the greatest scientists of all time. His theory of relativity revolutionized scientific thought with new conceptions of time, space, mass, motion, and gravitation. If ever there was a man who had the right to pound his chest and say, “Yea, that’s what I’m talking about. I’m the man,” it was him. Instead, he paid tribute to the labors of other people that helped him reach his great successes.
As I wrote in my prior essay (Thank You Granny!), I owe my grandmother a great debt. But I fell short in repaying it to her. Before she died I didn’t do enough to tell her how much she meant to me. Oh, I wrote her a couple of letters, but that wasn’t enough. At her funeral I had so many unspoken words in my mouth – and no way to tell them to her. It was one of the lowest points in my life. I’m reminded of the words of Leo Buscaglia in his motivational speech, Celebrate Life: “The time to live is now. The time to love is now. Put it off, and see what happens!” In this same speech he read a poem from a former student of his, titled Things You Didn’t Do.
Remember the day I borrowed your brand new car and I dented it? I thought you’d kill me, but you didn’t.
And the time that I dragged you to the beach and you said it would rain, and it did? I thought you’d say I told you so, but you didn’t.
And the time that I flirted with all the guys to make you jealous, and you were? I thought you’d leave me, but you didn’t.
And the time I spilled strawberry pie all over your brand new rug. I thought you’d smack me, but you didn’t.
Remember the time I forgot to tell you that the dance was formal and you showed up in jeans? I thought you’d drop me, but you didn’t.
Yes, there were lots of things that you didn’t do, but you put up with me and you loved me, and you protected me and there were lots of things that I wanted to make up to you – when you returned from Vietnam … but you didn’t.
My grandmother passed away several years ago. To her, I owe a great debt. When she was alive, I referred to her affectionately as “Granny.” From a young age, I would frequently stay with Granny each summer for a couple of weeks during school break. She lived in the heart of the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York – near the end of a long, steadily climbing mountain road. During those weeks, I would pick berries, hike in the woods, play card games, go camping, read books, eat ice cream, and climb trees. As a young boy, I loved to climb trees – the higher the better. I would disappear into the branches and leaves, reaching a point where I could not be seen, only heard. I’d shout down to her, “Granny, I’m almost at the top.” And she’d reply, “Well, why don’t you stop when you get there.”
Granny and I had a couple of activities that we especially liked to do together. One was to go “camping.” To get to her camp we had to walk into the woods along an overgrown dirt trail that she said was a logging road at one time. Her camp was a simple wooden cabin with no running water or electricity. It had two main rooms – one a sleeping and sitting room – the other a kitchen. In the kitchen was a cast iron wood stove – made for heating and cooking. It was on this stove that she cooked some of the best breakfasts that I ever had in my life. Blueberry pancakes made with fresh berries that we picked were my absolute favorite.
Let me tell you about a fellow named George Rarey. On June 21, 1944, George, an American soldier, woke up in France. Here is an excerpt from a letter he wrote to his wife on that very day:
Every night I crawl into my little sack and light up the last cigarette of the day and there in the dark with the wind whippin’ around the tent flaps I think of you – of your hair and eyes and pretty face – of your lovely young body – of your warmth and sweetness. It isn’t in the spirit of frustration but of fulfillment. I’ve known these things and knowing them and having them once, I have them forever. That wonderful look in your eyes when we’d meet after being apart for a few hours – or a few weeks – always the same – full of love. Ah, Betty Lou, you’re the perfect girl for me – I love ya’, Mama!
George Rarey and millions of other people like him have served in the military service for the United States of America. This essay and others to follow are dedicated to George and all the people that have helped you and I live a life full of opportunity. It is a celebration of individual contributions and sacrifices for me, for you, and for all of mankind.