This, I believe: there was once a sense of family and honor and love. These high things that I have so sought in my own life did exist, but now seem so lost to me. My grandfather was fifty years old when he came to this country. And despite years playing sports and being exposed to people from governors to criminals, I have never known a stronger man. He lived though the world wars that enflamed Europe, and in 1956, a man of uncompromising principal, he took part in the Hungarian uprising against the Communists. Though he was among the freedom fighters then and though he, himself had been tortured by a corrupt regime, he stopped a mob from lynching members of the fallen government. As the Russian tanks rolled back into Hungary to re-establish communist rule there, my grandfather had to flee for his life—he told his wife and children (my grandmother and mother) that he could not part with them and would stay and face certain execution if they would not join him.
They, my grandparents and their young children, crossed the river into Austria in the middle of the night, like some scene from film noir. They came to the United States and faced ridicule and poverty. My grandfather eschewed involvement in political and religious groups, though he had strong opinions on the notions of justice. He taught his three daughters and his son that they could overcome life’s obstacles and they should never abandon their own standards of propriety and decency even out of perceived necessity of expediency. They never, never gave up their dignity or their love for one another. He lived another fifty years, bringing his family out of poverty and solidly into middle class America only through his and his family’s hard work. My grandfather continued to be my hero, maintaining his own house through the age of 99 with one and only wife of 70 years, drinking wine, smoking cigars, and singing to his grandchildren and great- grandchildren.
And now, as my own family faces collapse in the face of our own personal crises, I wonder whether the belief in the strength and love my grandfather’s life was a testament to are somehow misplaced illusions or if they are somewhere waiting to be rediscovered in uncertain modern times. I don’t know what my life will teach my children, but, this, I believe, I hope, I aspire, and cling to: that belief in family, honor, and love are real enough to endure.
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