I hope your week has gone well, and had some nice surprises in it. We can always use some sunshine in our lives, an unexpected gesture from a friend, or even from someone we barely know, a kind comment, or a thoughtful touch. It can change a week from mediocre, or even lousy if things are going wrong, into a special moment we didn’t expect, and turn everything around. So I wish you good surprises in the week ahead.
I had an interesting experience this week, and was discussing World War II with my beloved editor. It always surprises me in France, when you talk to very old people, who look extremely meek and frail, or when people talk about their grandparents who are no longer here—-to discover that they played some vital part in the Resistance during the War, when the Germans occupied France. People whom you would never suspect of heroic acts, did remarkable things during the war, saving others, rescuing children, hiding families, taking enormous risks, or blowing up supply trains when they were young. Too often, I think we dismiss old people, never realizing who they were and what they did when they were young, or what they were capable of. Few of us have lived through a war on home turf, particularly in the States. But for those who experienced the Occupation of France, and other sectors of the war, they were pushed to the limits of bravery, far beyond what even they knew they were capable of. And even in normal life, people we know have done heroic acts, to save a life, a friend or a stranger, at the site of an accident, or during a plane crash, or even in daily life. Opportunities for courage present themselves in everyday life, and we often surprise ourselves by how brave we can be, or those we know.
One of my favorite war stories was of a friend’s grandmother, a countess in France, whose husband was in the Resistance and taken away by the Germans. She had to get to Paris, I can’t remember why, and had no way to get there. So she borrowed a tractor from a farmer, and assured him she would return it, and told him who she was. And she headed for Paris, from the South of France, on the tractor, and encountered another young woman along the way, and gave her a ride on the tractor. And soon they met another young girl on the road, also on her way to Paris, on foot, and gave her a ride too. Because they were just a bunch of young women on a tractor and looked like farm girls, the German soldiers didn’t stop them along the way. Apparently, by the time they got to Paris, there were 5 or 6 young women hanging onto the tractor. All got there safely, and none had the travel papers they needed for the journey, and miraculously, they were never stopped. The young Countess did eventually return the tractor to the farmer, and she was in the Resistance for the remainder of the war, and was decorated for bravery afterwards. I love the image of all those young women arriving in Paris on the tractor, totally ignored by all the soldiers they encountered as just a bunch of silly farm girls. It was very brave of them to undertake the trip in plain sight!! And must have made quite an impression when they rolled into Paris on a tractor!!! Whatever works.
In the same vein, while talking to my editor, she mentioned that her husband was a prisoner of war in Germany during World War II, a fact I had never known. The subject came up over Memorial Day, when she mentioned that he had been in a parade. He is 91 years old, American, and was with the US Army in France and Germany during World War II. He was taken prisoner by the Germans, and put in a prison camp with terrible conditions, along with other Allied officers, British, American and French. And during a rescue mission organized by General Patton himself (to rescue his son in law who was a prisoner in the same camp in Germany), my editor’s husband escaped the camp, and participated in an incredible mission. The Germans outnumbered them in a fierce attack, and he was sent to another prison camp in Germany. It was close to the end of the war by then, and he was liberated from that camp by the allies. He had written a book about his war experiences, which she referred me to, and I was fascinated to read it. Her husband is a very interesting, intelligent, erudite man. He was in publishing himself, is great to talk to, and very knowledgeable. He loves to sail, and we’ve had conversations for 30 years, but I never suspected his astounding heroism during the war. He was one of the few survivors of the raid to liberate the first camp he was in (Patton’s son in law survived it too, although injured and very ill). I loved the book, and it reminded me of how little we know of people at times. The most ordinary people sometimes have led fascinating lives and done amazing things. One of my good friends is married to a very quiet, mild mannered man, who was one of the most decorated fighter pilots in Viet Nam, and a top gun. And people we know have often committed other acts of bravery, not in a war, that would astound us if we knew.
We all make a lot of assumptions about people, and it’s so easy to dismiss much older people if they appear frail and are no longer in the mainstream of life. Perhaps if we took more time to talk to them, we would learn of bravery and heroic acts that would astound us. I had immeasurable respect once I read of my editor’s husband’s war experiences. I can’t even imagine courage like that!!!
And in some small way, we each commit heroic acts and remarkable feats almost every day, even a gesture or a word, or an act of kindness that can change someone’s life. It’s a good thing to think about on an ordinary day. You never know when you’ll be called on or have the opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life, maybe a huge difference, that could change the course of their life, or yours.
So I salute all of you, as the heroes that you are, in big and small ways!!! Have a great week!!!