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Learning what’s important

Today I went to my fiance’s great-grandmother’s funeral. In the past two years, collectively, we have lost a grandfather, a grandmother and now a great-grandmother. I was fortunate to know all my grandparents and three great-grandparents, but that was long ago. Standing in the rain during Bubby’s grave-side funeral, I couldn’t help but imagine the life she lived. She was either 109 or 110, depending who you ask. Either way, she lived through three centuries.

She was alive for the very first car, very first plane, very first of many things. She witnessed Franz Ferdinand’s death (which led to WWI), she witnessed Pearl Harbor (which led to U.S. involvement in WWII). She witnessed a cure for polio and a man walking on the moon. She witnessed 1899 roll into 1900 and 1999 merge into 2000. She lived through the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, The Chinese Cultural Revolution, The Counter-Culture Revolution and the technology revolution. She outlived her husband, her children and a grandchild.

My grandfather (father’s father) turns 91 in February and while he’s still a couple decades shy of Bubby, he too has seen change. While he was drafted by the Hungarians (he was from a town called Munkacs) into a labor camp, his parents and four sisters hid in the ghetto from the Nazis before being marched to the Sajovits brick factory outside of town. One of his sisters, Hansi, recalls (as told to my Uncle Jeffrey): “We were assembled in the court yard each carrying a small suitcase. If you were not strong enough, this was left behind or dropped along the road. I remember the long march. The brick factory was located at some distance from the town. My whole family kept together, except for Grandfather. He could not walk anymore and fell down. The Hungarian gendarme would not let Mother help him and she was forced to leave the old man lying in the gutter. It is not known what happened to him, but I think that the Nazis shot him.”

As a 90 year old looking back on history, his words ring with a sadness I’ve only read about in books. But the amazing thing is that his world-view is of a positive world. He survived the evils of humanity and has dealt with a pain I can’t even imagine, yet still looks at the world, and its people, as good.

He has preached patience, and it took a long time for me to realize where his wisdom came from. I knew the stories growing up, but never associated them with my grandfather because he never really discussed it. But since my grandmother passed away, he’s been nothing short of an encyclopedia.

As referenced in my last post, he also believes in hope. It’s not a four letter word to him, but a way of life. Hope gets him through the day and into the next. It’s with this perspective that I try to live my life. Granted, there are times (admittedly more so than not) that my hope and patience wane, but at the end of the day, I try to think of him and remember it could be worse.

I make it a point to call him and my grandmother (mother’s mother) once a week. I’ve learned that the older you get, the lonelier you become. I don’t mean Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs lonely, but more along the lines that your network is quickly fading away. They are the only two people in the world, that when they hear my voice, light up with joy. This truth makes me both happy and sad.

I’m not sure I would want to (or could) live as long as Grandpa or Bubby. But if I’m around in another 80 years, hopefully I will be able to be smart enough to put life into perspective. Or at the very least, see the Jets win a Super Bowl.

About joshsternberg

Josh Sternberg is the content strategist for The Washington Post. Prior to that he was the media reporter for Digiday. Additional bylines include: The Atlantic, The Awl, Pacific Standard, Mashable, Huffington Post, Mediaite.


2 thoughts on “Learning what’s important

  1. Josh, thanks for sharing this post. This whole situation with my grandmother reminded me how amazing my family is, too. We're spread throughout the country, but everyone was in town for my grandmother's funeral. If nothing else, this experience helped remind us all what a great family we have. Like you, I'm going to make a much better effort to regularly talk with my grandpa, cousins, etc.Thanks again for sharing your post with me. 🙂

    Posted by Heather Whaling | June 3, 2009, 1:15 pm


  1. Pingback: William Sternberg – 1918-2012 « The Sternberg Effect - May 8, 2012

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