What price do you put on a long life?
The reason I ask is that I’m just back from vacationing in Hawaii, and the issue came up during a visit to Pearl Harbor (search).
As I was touring the Arizona Memorial (search), underneath which lie some 1,100 entombed in the rusted wreckage just a few feet below, I overheard someone talking about the World War II generation.
"Well, they're all gone now," a woman said. "These poor souls just went a lot earlier."
I don't think she meant any slight, but it got me thinking.
True, much of that great generation is dying off. I'm told now at the rate of 2,000 a week. Pretty soon, they'll all be gone.
But there was and is a difference. These men beneath this memorial never had a chance to live their lives.
Some were as young as 17. Hundreds more barely older than that. They were men with their lives in front of them, wiped out when the Japanese attacked that one dark Sunday morning, December 7, 1941.
They'd miss the war that would avenge them, and the stirring battles to come that would honor them.
They'd miss children, some they had. Most, they never had a chance to have.
They'd miss out on the simple joys in the simple things in life.
I imagined all the Christmases they'd never see. All the barbecues they'd never enjoy. All the beauties of parenthood they'd never witness. No first childhood steps. Or bicycle riding lessons. No high school dances to fret over. Or daughters to lecture. Or sons to scold.
No family reunions, or communions, or marriages or birthday parties.
Year in and year out, they lost out.
The fabric of life, the little things that make a life would not be part of their lives.
Their colleagues, their generation would save a world. But they'd also save time to bring others into this world, and watch them grow, and watch them play baseball, and go to baseball games, and take family trips, and share camp fires, and watch movies and spy shooting stars.
I just remember a great sadness enveloping me as I toured Pearl Harbor remembering "that" day, and seeing the simple concrete piers that signified other lost ships and other lost men on names like the Utah and the Tennessee and on and on.
My dad was part of their generation. But he lived long enough to see future generations...children and grandchildren, dance recitals at home, Elvis and The Beatles on TV, and man walking on the moon. These men lost at Pearl Harbor were not quite so fortunate.
Life, in the scheme of things, is short. But it's amazing what we can pack into it while we're here, if only given the chance.
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