While I’ve been on a PBS kick lately, I’ve become hooked on a show that my local station has on Tuesday nights (and you can probably see episodes online) called We’ll Meet Again. Each week it focuses on some historic event and two ordinary people who were caught up in that event who were deeply affected by some other person they encountered during that event. Now they’re trying to find that person again (or, sometimes, relatives of that person). We spend most of the episode on the events of the history, see some of the search, and then see the reunion. At that point, I’m usually in tears.
The World War II episode focused on a Japanese-American woman trying to find the childhood friend who stood up for her during the anti-Japanese sentiment following Pearl Harbor and then welcomed her back from the internment cap and on a Jewish man who’d been a refugee in Singapore (an open city, so it was one of the few places Jews fleeing Europe could go) during the Japanese occupation who was looking for the daughter of the people who were surrogate parents to him. There was an episode about the Mt. St. Helens eruption, with a hiker trying to find the helicopter pilot who rescued her and a scientist trying to find the family of the scientist who saved her life by sending her away just before the eruption. The Vietnam episode focused on a man whose parents sent him away to try to escape to America when he was 12 looking for the aid worker who helped him flee and on a Vietnamese woman whose American father was forced to leave his Vietnamese wife and family behind when the US pulled out trying to track down her father or any family she might have in America. Last week’s episode focused on 9/11, with a man who escaped the hotel in the middle of the World Trade Center complex just before the first tower fell trying to find the woman who comforted him and got him to a safe place and a chaplain working at the Pentagon in the aftermath looking for the other chaplain who helped him keep going during a crisis of faith.
There are two things I find utterly fascinating about this program. One is that it shows us these major events through the eyes of ordinary people. These aren’t really the ones in the middle of the action. They’re the people caught up in events they had no control over. That offers an interesting perspective on these events.
The other is how small an act of kindness can make such a huge difference. While there have been a couple of big, heroic things, like the helicopter pilot flying into a dangerous area to look for survivors, most of the things that mattered so much to these people that they’re tracking down people decades later have been relatively tiny things. The Japanese-American woman never forgot the girl who met her at the schoolyard gates and walked into the school holding her hand when she returned from the internment camp after the war and was afraid of how she’d be received at school. She tells her story at schools and always mentions that friend. When they reunited as elderly women, the friend had no idea how much that had meant. It was a little thing to her, but it meant the world to her friend. The chaplain ministering to the recovery workers at the Pentagon in the aftermath of 9/11 had maxed out on what he was able to take, and it was another chaplain kneeling beside him and placing a hand on his shoulder and just being there with him that gave him the strength to go on, so that now he’s had a career of ministering to the troops, including those deployed overseas.
And that really makes you think. What little gesture of kindness might you make that means the world to someone else? You don’t have to rush into a burning building or take a bullet for someone to matter a great deal to someone else’s life. Every single day, we have the opportunity to make a difference by being kind, showing compassion, and noticing when people need something.