Many of us accept the image of idealized heroes, but they are a product of mass media and values gone awry. When one looks deeper, one finds more. Heroes are among us, yet we don't always see them. Heroes can be people living out their difficult lives quietly, but leaving a legacy of grace, hope, and example.
A few years ago, my husband and children were enjoying July fourth fireworks on the beach. We watched the bright colors spread across the sky as the sound of the ocean waves filled our heads. My family was free, together, and content. My thoughts went to another July fourth in 1923 when my Aunt Gertruda and grandfather traveled across the same ocean and arrived in America. It was at that moment I realized my life and everything I knew was indebted to my aunt's heroism.
Aunt Gertruda was born in a small village in the Ukraine. Her family was poor and the living conditions were brutal. Pogroms occurred at any time. She saw indescribable human behavior. Soldiers came into the villages, killed families, and burned houses. Travel was prohibited, so the only way to escape this cruelty was secretly. Her parents were fearful of their lives and decided to send the family in stages to America. At the age of seventeen my Aunt Gertruda was entrusted with her fourteen-year-old brother and given an escape route. Their journey took two years of walking and hiding. They were beaten and imprisoned along the way. When they reached Germany they were transported by ship to America. Once settled in the safety of America's waiting arms, my aunt worked hard and quietly helped others in need. Aunt Gertruda had experienced cruel behavior, yet she chose to live each day with kindness and compassion.
Aunt Gertruda was...