Lesson Learned: Last month, my husband and I hosted a family reunion in Berlin, Germany, that was attended by twenty-two relatives, ranging in age from 5 months to 89 years. While I was looking forward to reconnecting with everyone, I was most eager to see my father’s 86 and 89 year old cousins again. They, like my father, grew up in a German region of Slovakia. During and after World War II, they were incarcerated in camps, had their personal property confiscated without compensation, and were expelled from their homes. All three were forced to find a new homeland; my father came to the United States, while his two cousins settled in what would become communist East Germany after the war.
Both elderly cousins had endured the vagaries of war that made them displaced persons. They eventually made a living for themselves and their families during the 40-year East German communist regime that restricted their freedom and severely limited their ability to buy the consumer goods we took for granted. The dictatorial regime ended in 1989 and they could finally experience a democratic government just as they were preparing for their own retirement.
With aching joints and a list of medical maladies, they sat with their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren to enjoy the family gathering with contented smiles. Looking at them, I recalled the quote, attributed to an unknown author, “Life goes on… whether you choose to move on and take a chance in the unknown. Or stay behind, locked in the past, wondering what could have been.”
They, like my father, had moved on and made the best of what life gave them with dignity and grace.