My Generation
On risk, reward and liberation

On risk, reward and liberation

We talk about freedom and sacrifice and patriotism every July, but a question: How fragile is your freedom? And what are you willing to risk for it?

The sun shines bright on the Illinois prairie. It’s a new morning. We get up, we go to the barn. Feed the cows. Feed the barn cats. Decide it’s fit to spray. Head to the field. Make a hundred other decisions. Complain about the roads. Maybe about our state and its budget. Head home for dinner with the family.

No big deal, right? Just another day. And it is. And it’s good (except for the budget part).

I spent some time last month in Washington, D.C., and visited the National Holocaust Museum. Did you know, when you enter the exhibit, the first thing they show you is what the Allied troops saw when they liberated the concentration camps?

That they encountered piles of bodies, starved and shattered people, and a system for killing humans.

Absolute evidence – that’s the idea the exhibit conveys. And these soldiers – young men who left their regular lives and regular American homes to fight unspeakable battles on foreign shores – had no idea what they had come upon. Or how bad it was to be. Or why it was.

You make your way through the museum and you learn how these regular Jewish people were going about their regular Jewish lives in 1930s Europe, when the voices began to change. And then the laws. They got up, went to work, ate with their families, and then it all changed. Within an alarmingly short period of time, they moved to ghettos and then to camps and then to death.

A very few were liberated.

On that day last month, my day was bookended first by that museum visit, then with watching a returning Honor Flight at the Peoria airport later that evening.

Our flight arrived just before the Honor Flight, and there were hundreds of people there to greet them, including family members, veterans of every war, a drum line and a bagpipe band-led parade.

Honor Flights began in 2005, to help the remaining veterans of World War II (and other wars) travel to Washington D.C., see the memorial in their honor and be recognized in their final years for what they did. What they gave. What they saw. Last year alone, they flew nearly 21,000 veterans to D.C.

These veterans were men and women who were conducting their ordinary lives back in the 1940s. They were young people embarking on adulthood and big decisions, people who had lives back here: homes and families and farms. Decisions and crops and politics of their own.

We’re all remarkably different people – those Americans today, those Americans of the 1940s and those Jewish families of the 1930s.

But how quickly our lives can each turn.

One day doing our thing – raising our crops, families, businesses – and the next, ushered into enormous risk and hardship. We don’t know a lot of hardship here in 2016 America. Not really. Our grocery stores are stocked, our shores safe by any logical comparison, our freedoms protected today.

Each July, we talk a lot about freedom and sacrifice and patriotism, and if you've gotten your Prairie Farmer this month, you saw where we shared some of our favorite patriotic stories and photos.

But I’d ask you to think, too, about risk and reward and how quickly our regular lives can turn from decisions about crops to those of battles. How fragile freedom really is.

And to wonder: what are you willing to risk for it?

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