“Don’t search for all the answers at once. A path is formed by laying one stone at a time.” –The Giant in the TV series “Twin Peaks”
Today is the day we thank our veterans. I always think of my paternal grandfather, a WWII veteran. He had an interesting, if not quite frightening, job. He was a part of the communications and radar unit that was sent to the islands of the South Pacific to set up ahead of the troops. The US advanced towards Japan by laying out a strategic path of capturing and controlling outlying islands, known as “island-hopping”, instead of attacking Japan’s Imperial Navy in force. As my dad retells me the story that his dad told him, I try to imagine what it might be like to go into an unknown and faraway place, a place with known human enemies and the unknown dangers of a dense tropical forest. I imagine a foreign place of beauty that is about to be the scene of battle, bloodshed, and the devastating loss of life, and the focus it must have taken to do the complicated work that my grandfather was tasked with doing.
Maybe my grandfather told me this story when I was younger, but I don’t remember. What I do remember, however, is “the box”. Some Sunday nights, after dinner, as we all sat around the dining room table talking, he would go and get his wooden box– a box full of trinkets from the war and a Japanese flag. It was a box full of stories, and to my young mind, a box full of mystery. As I reflect upon this experience as an adult, I still try to explore the mystery of the box. What did it hold inside of it for my grandfather? What memories? What stories? What were the values at the center of these stories? How did that shape him as a person? And consequently, my father, his children, and our children? My grandfather was proud when he brought out the box- I remember that. He enjoyed showing his grandchildren what was inside. He wanted to share that part of himself and the hardships he endured during the war. Perhaps he was also sharing his perseverance, his wit and strategy, the stone he laid down on the path to victory and his contribution to something bigger. I may not remember all the details of the story, but his values were certainly transmitted and centered in my heart and mind, shaping who I am today.
I’m not on foreign soil and certainly I’m grateful for my safety and well-being. But some days, it feels like we’re in strange territory. I think of my grandfather- set in an unknown land to lay down communication as a way to connect the men in the military so they could defend their democracy and fight against Nazism. How grateful I am for his service, and the service of all our veterans, so that we still have a democratic country to defend.
As Unitarian Universalists, working towards our 6th Principle of “world community, with peace, liberty, and justice for all,” we continue to work to defend and uphold these values that have become distorted and anemic in these times. An important part of what we do now is to remain connected to one another through innovation and creativity, through a strategy that lays down one stone at a time on the path to justice. We know the world is complicated. We know that there are many battles to fight and that this work requires us to persevere. But if we focus on the task at hand– building a connected community that models the way we want the world to be– we can carry on the legacy of our ancestors and those that gave their lives for something bigger than themselves- the idea that there should indeed be liberation and justice for all.