Written by Sara K. Eisen
If you are on anyone's mass e-mail list, by now you've probably heard of Harold B. Estes. For those of you who delete anything not work-related before reading, Estes is a very sharp-witted, conservative WWII vet in his mid-90's who wrote a strong letter of criticism to President Obama, virally distributed by e-mail in November.
His opening shot: "...I am amazed, angry, and determined not to see my country die before I do, but you seem hell bent not to grant me that wish. I can't figure out what country you are the president of. You fly around the world telling our friends and enemies despicable lies..."
The full text of the letter is here.
When I read it, the letter reminded me very much of my Grandmother. She, too, is in her 90's. She, too, is a WWII "vet" - having survived Auschwitz in her 20's. (See more on my amazing Grandma here.)
And she, too, is an avid news junkie who can still debate the issues with the best of them... and is generally bound to tell you exactly what she thinks. Why waste time with political correctness when you're 91? (Or 36. But that's for another post.)
Grandma Esther is also not a great Obama fan. She feels sold out, as a rather conservative American and as a Zionist, and recently told me that she feels the world's atmosphere towards outwardly proud Jews has returned to something akin to what it was in the early 30's: "I had to live through it once, OK. But to live through it again? I can't believe it." What she does believe is that Obama's apologetic attitude towards nations classically hostile to both America and Israel has made matters far worse, and not better, for the democratic, free world.
She is of course far from alone in this opinion. Harold B. Estes, for one, strongly agrees with her. And the fact that they are both rare living witnesses who were both THERE - that one fought for America's freedom while the other waited for Allied forced to liberate her from the evil many across the world denied existed - gives them something so strong in common... that I got the crazy idea that they should meet.
So...I contacted Fore n' Aft magazine, a Honolulu-based Navy vet publication, and the source quoted as verifying the Estes story as real, rather than one of those widely circulated urban legends. Within a day, I heard back from the magazine's editor, a very open and kind person of the sort you don't find too many of anymore, who was thrilled to help me arrange a call between Harold and Grandma Esther. (Also instrumental in making the call possible was Harold's lawyer and confidant, a very friendly member of the tribe who was only too happy to help.)
And so...one Tuesday afternoon about a month ago, Harold and his buddies called my grandma in New York. They talked a bit about Harold's letter to Obama (my grandma voiced her approval) and about the weather (she wished she were the one in Hawaii) and then about her experiences in the War. I think it was amazing for her to be validated by a contemporary, and I hope Harold had the same feeling.
All in all, perhaps only because of their advanced years, they did not manage to solve the world's problems, or even just America's. But I think these two heroes and survivors and opinion-makers got to briefly say: I was there, too, and I can't believe what I'm seeing now, either...and I get it. I get you.
That's the kind of empathy I wish for everyone to receive at least once in a lifetime, and for every world leader to possess and express - to his own nation - so that his or her people never feel unheard, invisible, disenfranchised, or unsafe.
It is perhaps a misplacement of empathy, spent on those who would never return it, that is Obama's problem in the first place.
Here's to a new decade of understanding and humanity... born of wisdom and courage and endless good energy, things we should not have to apologize for. Harold and Esther would be the first ones to tell you that it would be about time.
Sara K. Eisen blogs at The Word Well