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Jewish World Review
March 6, 2006
/ 6 Adar, 5766
Learning from pain
I've been hobbling around on crutches for three weeks, my left leg in a cast, and it's the best thing that's happened to me in a while.
I finally got permission to drive this week, but because both my car and truck have clutches, which I'd need to work with this boot on my left leg, I was afraid I'd not be able to drive either one.
Suddenly, the most valuable car on the road was any car with an automatic transmission. I went to bed at night dreaming of 1976 AMC Pacers and 1972 Chevy Novas and any other car I could buy for $500 just so I could get around.
When we are deprived of things we took for granted, we remember how valuable those things are.
Take 9/11. Until then, America was having a grand old time. Aside from our stock portfolios, we didn't worry about much. We came and went as we pleased, never really remembering that some people want to injure us.
I remember the week we were injured. I went to Mass at St. Joseph's in Alexandria, Va. The place was packed to the walls and nobody wanted to leave. We had a clear view of evil earlier that week, a clear reminder that evil is alive and well in the world, as it always has been, and that we must band together to defeat it.
That's the benefit of injury. It brings us back to our senses. It brings out the best in us.
As I hobble into coffee shops, it's amazing how people jump up to hold the door or offer to carry a tray. I'm not that much of a basket case, but my little injury brings out compassion in strangers.
Injury forces us to do things we wouldn't do otherwise. When I was unable to drive, I had to rely on my father to taxi me about. For two weeks, we talked about all kinds of things, about the old days, his mom, stories that I want to know. My limitations forced me to do something I don't do enough: spend time with my parents.
Injury has produced some great generations in America. The World War II generation was as young and carefree as any generation was, and then the Japanese injured us. Suddenly, young men and women were forced to grow up fast and sacrifice for their country. That sacrifice produced some of the finest people this country has ever known.
My parents came from another fine generation, the Silent Generation. They married young and sacrificed for their children. My father told me he gets embarrassed when I talk about him, because he didn't do anything unique. Most everybody we knew was doing the same for their kids, but that is what was great about that time.
I think part of the reason their generation was so decent had to do with the Cold War. In the back of everyone's mind, there was a sense that nuclear war could break out, that the horrors of Hiroshima could happen anywhere in America. The threat of injury kept us focused and humble and virtuous.
I wish we didn't need injury in order to be brought back to our senses, but most of us do. The trick is to think like an injured person — to see our blessings clearly — while we are still well.
Following 9/11 we were unified, focused and determined for a while, but that was four years ago. We have lost focus again.
We have forgotten that a house divided soon falls, that, unfortunately, we can't negotiate with the people who injured us, and that we must defeat them or they will surely injure us again.
Injury is only good if you learn from it, but I'm not sure we are. Personally I prefer injuries that are four years old over the spectacular new ones that somebody may be planning as you read this.
The best injuries are always the ones in the past, and I sure hope we can keep it that way.
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© 2006, Tom Purcell
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