The Greatest Generation

humility

Start time was 4:00pm. We pulled into the parking lot at 3:40pm. We made it. But it wasn’t pretty. Torrential rain, back-ups on the NJ turnpike, standing water, all treacherous, extended our drive time by 90 minutes.  Being late for this event was not a memory I wanted to bank. We walked briskly for a mile to get to The Pavilion, the venue for Rachel’s college graduation ceremony.

Late = no seats. Responsible parents arrived 60-90 minutes early.  Susan (a member of the class of responsible parents) arrived earlier in the day, waited for us, and couldn’t hold our seats because we were late. I caught the scud with my chest.  This time, I had no counter. Cut it too fine.

Susan found a seat. I stood at the back. Bad Dads in the back.

He had to be in his 80’s.  He arrived on the arm of a Graduate, had to be his Grandson. A navy blue suit, oversized but neatly pressed. Black wing-tip shoes that had long since lost their gleam. A powder blue handkerchief peeked out of his suit jacket pocket. A taupe colored shirt with the tail hanging out. He dragged his right leg behind him, his Grandson offering ballast. (WW Veteran?)

He grabbed the chair in front of him and slumped down heavily. They were seated in my line of sight up 1 row.

The distinguished guests and the faculty processional was followed by a thank you to Parents, family members, and significant others. His Grandson softly nudges him.

The ceremony continued.

He listened. His eyes were centered on the podium.  He sat back-straight in the stiff aluminum chair for just under two hours. His hands were folded neatly in his lap. I didn’t see him stir, shift or shuffle.

Around him, the building was buzzing. Cell phones. Smart phones. iPads. Cameras. TV Cameras. A building coked up, amped up on technology. If there was a jet plume tied to each text message, you wouldn’t see your loved one sitting next to you, the exhaust would be impenetrable.

He sat and listened. (Respect. Community. Honor. Family. Service. Country. A member of The Greatest Generation. Sir, what is going through your head when you watch This? Us? What do you make of Our Generation and the one behind us?)

He stood one time during the program. His Grandson’s class was asked to stand and be recognized. A Master’s Degree recipient in Engineering.

His Grandpa signaled for help.

Grandson levered him up off his chair.  And they hugged.

They were both sobbing. He grabbed a linen handkerchief from his pocket. Sat down. And dropped his head.

My phone buzzes. Rachel is sitting way up in the bleachers behind me. “Are you crying? What’s wrong with you? My class isn’t up for another 15 minutes.” I ignore her message, and turn off my phone.

I can’t avert my eyes – he has not lifted his head.

A passage from the Benediction closing out the ceremony included Abyssus abysm invocat:

The higher the ideal of sanctity to which we aspire, the more sublime the end toward which we tend, the more we will have to descend and excavate in ourselves the fertile abyss of humility. (“Abyssus abyssum invocat” (Ps XLIV:8)

I take one last glance at Grandpa and Grandson and walk away.

We have a lot of wood to chop.


Credits for Post Title: The Greatest Generation written by Tom Brokaw, depicts the Americans who came of age during the Great Depression and fought World War II.

 

Comments

  1. Congratulations Rachel!!! Awesome, outstanding, fantastic! And to this one adds the powerful silhouette of this memorable gentleman (gentle-man) and his grandson so in tune with each other’s heart. Beautiful.
    And Rachel finding her dad in a sea of people – smile.

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  2. One thing about bloggers is that many of us develope the ability to take seemingly mundane activities, make observations and then create beautiful stories….like this one.

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  3. Wonderful words, feelings, pictures, everything. Thanks and congratulations, David.

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  4. what it’s all about. this powerful oak tree and his young sapling lived out this passage right before your understanding and weeping eyes. excellent piece and congratulations to all of you.

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  5. Heartwarming story. As a member of that generation, I remember all too well the boys that went to war, the sacrifices everyone made, and the dignity of the ones that returned.

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  6. To be fully present in the moment–a gift we give ourselves and those we love. Congratulations, Rachel, and best wishes as you embark upon the next chapter of your life….

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  7. “My phone buzzes. Rachel is sitting way up in the bleachers behind me. “Are you crying? What’s wrong with you? My class isn’t up for another 15 minutes.” I ignore her message, and turn off my phone.” – Okay, I went from tears to laughter with this one. The depth of your emotion is astonishing to me, David…and what a proud day for you. I always cry my way through graduation ceremonies…but you made other observations during this one which made it all especially touching and poignant. Love to you my friend. 🙂

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  8. Peggy Farrell Schroeder says:

    Congratulations to Rachel (and to her parents, too)! I loved this. It reminded me of a similar experience I had at Harvard, about 14 months ago, sitting in on an undergraduate English class. The students we’re happily on every personal device imaginable, missing a phenomenal lecture. There has to be a better way…..

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  9. Fantastic post, Dave.

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  10. michael zahaby says:

    Congrats. What a heart warming story

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  11. Congrats to Rachel. Great post, David.

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  12. With heartfelt congratulation. You’ve done you duty as a parent to watch your child finish the greatest accomplishment. She her education, you to raise her. Congratulations to you and Susan. Now it’s Rachel’s turn.

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    • Thank you Perpetua. We are proud of her. Yes, and now it’s her turn. (I remind her of that as I’m prepared to cut her off the family plan on the cell phone) 🙂

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  13. always love your real stories. especially because they reveal that softer side of you. you are so open to receiving…and giving. thank you.

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  14. Beautiful…………
    In every way.

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  15. Thank you for sharing this wonderful story, David. I enjoy your writing. Congratulations to Rachel, Susan, and you!
    Russ

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  16. So beautiful and heartfelt. Congratulations to all of you!

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  17. Olga Kanigan says:

    Congratulations Rachel great post David I was right there with you crying can’t help it if our tear ducts are close to our heart.

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  18. Just love this – I feel as if I were sitting (ok. standing, and it’s not too much to imagine that I may have cut it a little too close too…) next to you and I know that like you, I would be attuned to the non-event events going on…what a beautiful image of grandson and grandfather and I agree with the others – your observations are heartfelt. Thanks for letting us peek in on this special day for Rachel and your family!

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  19. Beautiful

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