My grandpa was born in Canada and served in the Royal Canadian Air Force during World War II. He was the flight engineer of a bomber. After one air raid over Germany, his plane was shot down. Most of the men were killed. My grandfather spent 2-1/2 years in a German prisoner of war camp. I have been blessed to hear many stories of his experiences during the war, and God’s mercies in preserving his life. Many were providential: when he crashed, a farmer and his grandson turned him over to the German soldiers instead the townspeople, who might have killed him; when they were being marched to a new camp, he was ill from dysentery and left for dead, but was found by nuns and nursed back to health. Many were life-lessons: the loyalty he had with his fellow soldiers; the faithfulness he had to write letters home, even when he knew they might not get through. If this was all my grandpa had done in his life, he would be a true hero.
But that is not all he did. He came home from the war, married my grandmother, raised five children, and supported his family. He immigrated to the United States in the early 1950s for a job as an engineer. Eventually, he became an American citizen, but he never forgot his heritage. The Canadian flag always flew right under the American one, and their swimming pool had a giant maple leaf painted on the bottom.
He never became apathetic or ordinary in his life. He could have; he had a good job and a great family and no one really expects people to do more than that. But he always did. He was a lifetime member of the local fire department and (along with my grandmother) a paramedic. He joined clubs and beautified his community. He served on borough council. In his senior years, he took classes at the local colleges and went on several ElderHostels with my grandmother. As an avid cyclist, he biked well into his 70s; he has biked the border of Pennsylvania several times and made many trips to Canada via bike as well as a cross-country trip across the United States. Always he was joined by friends and often people he didn’t know, and he reached out to them. His world was always larger than his home and small community. He was frugal with his own possessions, like any good Scotsman, but he gave generously, volunteered often, and thought of others’ needs in his daily life. He had reasons for bitterness and sadness and coldness, but he never gave into them. He could be exacting in his instructions and his delegating (he was an engineer, after all), but it was because he held himself and the activities he participated in to high standards. He wanted to give his best at all times, in all circumstances. And he loved. He loved much.
He became very ill before I began my journey to host a child, so he didn’t know about this particular adventure in my life. But he’s been there for so many others in my life, and I know what he would have told me. He would have said, “This is good. This is important. And I’m proud of you.” I want to honor the tradition that he instilled in my mother and now in me: work hard, do your best, think of others, never give up, push through. Don’t forget where you came from, what you came through. Use it to make your life better. Use it to make others’ lives better. Fight. Question. Matter.