Fulfilling the Obligation
Each of us is born with a unique sense of what we owe to the life we are given. Parents stand in line with their eighteen or nineteen year old sons and daughters on the first day at the United States Military Academy at West Point. It is called “R” Day, or Reception Day. It will remain etched in my mind forever, as I was one of those parents, standing in line until his name was called.
We hustled into an auditorium and someone with lots of stripes and medals stepped up to the podium. “One thing is for sure. Your child will learn how to make a bed.” Humor often relaxes people but there was only a sprinkling of chuckles. We all knew that within a moment or two, we would have the famous forty-five seconds, no more, no less, to say good-bye. Then our children would be whisked behind a literal red velvet curtain for processing as a soldier; they would sign a declaration to give their life for their country as one of their first duties. Eight hours later, we would stand in a long line near Trophy Point, overlooking the Hudson River.
We would stand with all the other parents and see our children in uniform, marching with the twelve hundred other new cadets past us and beyond under the great stone Eisenhower arch. With a combination of wonder and pride each parent looked after their child with the knowledge that they were called upon to fulfill a moral obligation.
A Humble Attitude
I could never have known then that my son would also go to Ranger School and become an Army Ranger. When someone asked me about his service and I said he was a Ranger, they asked at what park. Many people don’t know about Army Rangers because they don’t write books, go on talk shows or otherwise brag about their service. In fact, one of the most important tenets of the Army Ranger creed is a humble, quiet attitude.
I have found this to be true of many veterans; they ascribe great courage to what others have done but scoff at praise for their own service. My own son always mentions that he had a lot of back up when he was on his missions, as if this somehow mitigates the courage and commitment it took. He was fulfilling the mission as he understood it, to the best of his ability. Nothing more, nothing less.
My friend Bob always carries a number of dollar bills in his pocket, folded to the size of a stick of gum. He gives them away to anyone on the street or in the subway who asks for money. Bob calls this his “ticket for living in New York City.” Announcements come on the subway frequently that say it is illegal to ask for money on the subway. But everyone must find and fulfill their own moral obligation as they see fit. What does one owe to the many destitute people one encounters?
A group of people show up every day outside the Goodwill across the street from me. They intercept people walking inside to donate and ask to be given the goods. One man jokingly calls this “Bumingdale’s” and another “Hoodwill.” Whatever it is, they are there every day like clockwork. They spread out the goods they have cadged on the sidewalk, pairs of shoes lined up, CD’s and books stacked, purses and bags in their respective clumps. This is their mission for the day. Survival with a twist.
The Constant Beat
Charlie from Canarsie (I know because I stopped and asked his name and where he is from) plays the drums in the 4th Street station every night. And I do mean every night. It is a small but very resonant snare drum and he rat-a-tat-tats at a noise volume that precludes any form of conversation while you are walking anywhere nearby. I have never not seen or heard him when I enter the station. The sound ricochets off the stone walls of the subway station, beating away into the night; reminding us that courage and resilience mean different things to different people; to the brave soldier, to the street survivor, to the lone musician beating out the rhythm of life in the heart of the city.
Kate Fuglei is an actress and singer who divides her time between Studio City and Brooklyn. She has appeared in over forty episodes of television, including most recently in one of the first episodes of STAR TREK/PICARD. She is a published author with two novels based on the lives of the physicist Enrico Fermi and the educator Maria Montessori. The greatest blessing in her life is her marriage to writer Ken LaZebnik and her two sons, Jack LaZebnik and Ben LaZebnik. They inspire her every single day.
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