So, here it is Monday morning and I am out in Rancho Mirage in the heat wave. It’s not really bad at all in my house. I have the curtains lowered and the air conditioning on, and it’s fine. I did have a bit of a problem earlier. My new Cadillac starts without a key. It has something called a “fob” and with that in my pocket I can just press a button and the car starts, jumps hoops, spits out nickels, et cetera.
But somehow I mislaid one of my fobs, so I had to get new ones and that was a bit of pain in this hot weather. Plus, my pool is really too warm to be comfortable. So, that’s another problem.
And then I sat down to eat my grapefruit at the table and opened yesterday’s New York Times Book Review, and reality slapped me in the face the way it does and it should.
On the cover was the beginning of a breathtakingly horrifying review of a book about the pogroms against Polish Jews after World War II, after the defeat of the Third Reich. Jews rounded up by police, by Boy Scouts, and beaten to death with iron bars. Jews thrown off trains. Jews murdered by anyone who cared to, just in case the Jews did not get the point about how welcome they were in Poland. That could well have been my life and my death.
Then, I turned the page, and there was a lengthy, if confusing, review of a book about Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys. How it brought back my youth spent listening to “409,” “Be True to Your School,” and the dozens of other great Beach Boys songs. That was my life. Not being bashed to death with an iron bar by a Polish policeman. Not straggling back from a concentration/death camp to be taunted, “So, Stein, you’re still alive,” which meant that I would not be alive for long, of course. No, my younger life was riding around in a V-8 1962 Impala that I talked my Pop into buying for me and having crushes on girls who did not like me.
Why? Because of America. Because, as Philip Roth so brilliantly puts it, I live in America the way I live in my skin.
And who made it possible? The nation that armed and fought the Nazis and the Japanese, that ran into Nazi machine gun fire at Omaha Beach to liberate France, that fought some of the worst fighting in history in the Huertgen Forest, that charged into Japanese Nambu bullets on Okinawa to beat the Emperor, that sent its best and brightest to fight the battles that saved the world from a thousand year reign of darkness.
And who still makes it possible for me to have as my main concern the keyless starters on my car? Or the heat today? Who makes it possible? The guy who faces worse heat than this every day with body armor and no air conditioning and brutal killers laying explosives for him and sniping at him — and her — at every turn. It is impossible to go out in this heat here in Rancho Mirage. But our soldiers and Marines and Seals and Air Force people do it every day while getting shot at.
God bless this glorious American military, every wife, every child, every parent, and endless prayers for them to return home safe, mission accomplished. God bless them every moment of every day for keeping safe this America, inside of which we live as powerfully as we live in our skin. This has to be the central fact of our lives: gratitude for the men and women who make this great life possible, who wear the uniform and cover it with glory.
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