Each year on Veterans Day, I call my grandfather in North Dakota to say thank you and see how he’s doing.
He served at the end of World War II on a Navy ship bringing supplies to Japan. Last summer, I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with him and get detailed information about his service; how he got from rural North Dakota to Great Lakes Naval Station in Green Bay, to Camp Endicott in Rhode Island, and then a one week train ride all the way to San Diego during which “the troops ate wieners and sauerkraut three times a day."
Finally, he spoke of his time in Okinawa, Saipan, and Tokyo Bay and talked about things he never had before…because no one had ever asked.
How many people are there in our lives that we count as loved ones, yet we know very little of their life or experiences?
I think it happens quite often with our own parents and grandparents. As children we see them in the role of mom and dad, when we believe their sole purpose in life is to fulfill our needs and wants. However, as we become adults, it is our responsibility to make the shift and begin seeing them as the unique individuals that they are; humans with their own souls, dreams, emotions, and experiences to share. Without this conscious shift, it is quite possible to have lived our entire lives without having truly known the people we consider dearest to us.
If asked to answer these questions about your parents or grandparents, could you? As a child, who did they dream of becoming? Did they struggle with schoolwork? What did they base their career decisions on? How many times have they been in love? What do they feel they have left to do in this life, and where do they think they are going afterward?
I'm confident I could answer these questions about many of my longtime friends, but perhaps not my own father. By taking an interest in learning more than just the childhood stories that they’ve always shared, we might be surprised at what we learn about our loved ones and ourselves in the process.