Gary Horton | Sacrifice Builds Character, Families, Nations, Joy

Gary Horton
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Many heard of the watery wipe-out at the recent Burning Man festival. The dead flat sands of Black Rock Desert, Nevada, received another summer rainy surprise and became a giant playa muddy human mouse trap. 

Folks planning to “party on, dude” in the sunny desert became hunkered-down mudwhompers, scrounging each other’s supplies for food and water, waiting days to dry out to make their escape.  

NPR covered the melee. Interviewing a few of the 70,000 participants, some mentioned fear, some disappointment, and one man mentioned, “sacrifice.” 

Said that “Burner,” “Yes, we were disappointed and yes everything became a sloggy mess. But most of us pulled together and sacrificed, sharing our food and supplies. It turned out to be a good experience of people giving for one another.” 

I appreciate that at least he wasn’t complaining. And, they found a way to make a good thing out of a tough situation. But to call slogging through three days of mud, “sacrifice” seems a stretch. Talk about First World Problems. Talk about the upper 1/10th, or 1% or 10%’ers getting their boots dirty. Inconvenience there was. Sacrifice? Let’s not be frivolous. Of course, you share your food and water and supplies. This is called, “decency.” Not sacrifice. 

Sometimes, I think our kids’ generation’s “sacrifice” was our parents’ ordinary lives. 

They don’t call the World War II cohort America’s greatest generation for nothing. They lived sacrifice all their days. And for too many, many days shortened. 

I was lucky enough to grow up on a street full of WWII vets and Depression-era families. Tough as nails. Giving and sharing without hesitation. 

These folks were happy as clams to have a 1,200-square-foot roof over their heads, food on the table, and peace on the streets. In some regards, our street was also our family. We were that “tight” – and no one thought it a sacrifice to help or lend to or assist almost anyone. 

A cup of sugar or a can of gas? Come on – that’s just “visiting.” Fight for freedom in Europe, Japan and Pacific Islands? That’s what you did, and it recalibrated everything for everyone who did it. Tough folks, those guys. But from my experience, exceptionally giving and community-minded. 

That was my experience, at least. 

I’ve written about our Ukrainian friend Juliya and her husband, Victor, with three sons and a daughter. They live in Irpin, Ukraine, and were front-line targets when Russia viciously bombed, raped, mauled and pillaged its way towards Kiev at the start of the war. Juliya and family were not spared. Their house was hit and damaged, but Jujiya’s mother’s house was rendered uninhabitable. Roof blown off, fire damage throughout, and shrapnel blasted throughout the walls and into whatever remaining furniture. 

Juliya initially had to flee with her daughter to Spain as rape and murder were real threats. However, six months into the war when things appeared to settle down, Juliya returned to her family she loves. Immediately, she set to help neighbors and soldiers with huge efforts of making food packages, distributing sleeping bags and setting up generators. 

The family decided to repair her mother’s house. It would be a large project, requiring the work of the entire family. Various folks chipped in for the substantial supplies. This past week, Juliya shared photos of the nearly completed home and shared some insights: 

“We continue to work in Mom’s house. My God, how infinitely long it is … I really want to bring it to life at least by winter. Unfortunately, there was not enough money to put the foundation in order. Now the house looks like a woman in a beautiful dress, but in leaky, old shoes.” 

“I’ve almost finished repairing the closet from a large hole from a bomb fragment. I hope that all these errors will not catch the eye of others. I’m not an expert yet. This is all antique furniture! The chest of drawers is as old as the house — 150 years old. It’s not in bad shape. You just need to update the varnish and accessories.” 

Juliya added, “I’m probably even twice as happy as my mom, because a lot of effort and work of my boys and me have been invested in this repair. We have grown together so tightly with this house! It seems to me that even as children, we were not as close!” 

To rebuild your mom’s house – and your neighborhood too, smack dab in the middle of a hot war — seems to me unbelievably giving, amazing and truly self-sacrificing. Yet Juliya, despite all the true blood, sweat and tears, says she’s “twice as happy” as the recipient.  

Mormons sing from a favorite hymn, “Sacrifice brings forth the blessings of heaven …” I’m not sure about the Latter-day Saints heaven thing, but about bringing blessings, yes, they are right about sacrifice. 

Sacrifice has unified and energized the nation of Ukraine like nothing else ever could. Sacrifice has secured Juliya’s mom, tightened her family’s bonds, and made Juliya doubly happy.  

Military service used to be mandatory. Public service was also an alternative. “Sacrifice” used to be normal, the thing you just did. Sacrifice built the “Greatest Generation.” 

I think that most times, sacrifice isn’t sacrifice at all. We’d build a better society if we all “sacrificed” more.  

Give, volunteer, “sacrifice” generously. You’ll be happier for it and our society will be better for it. 

Gary Horton’s “Full Speed to Port!” has appeared in The Signal since 2006. The opinions expressed in his column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Signal or its editorial board.

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