Here is Opa, a normal guy who had some extraordinary experiences, but honestly- was quite regular. I could dramatize the harvest work, and it was really quite strenuous (I certainly balk at hard labor from 8am-10pm), but we have an entire history of regular people doing hard labor for less. He chose the work because it paid well, it fed him, and he got some muscles out of it.
I can see how Ella was not super excited to hear how Opa had been doing such hard labor. She imagined her son as a man with superior intellect who could and would achieve great things with his mind. Yet, if we are able and the work is not exploitive, isn't hard labor an amazing lesson in strength and humility? I don't know about you, but when I carry a crazy heavy box - I feel like superwoman. It's why people get all crazy about working out in the gym. There's something visceral about being able to achieve a feat of strength. The gym doesn't do it for me. I can't lift something for the sake of lifting it. But harvesting acres of wheat and seeing that my work has accomplished something that contributes to the feeding of a nation? Pretty satisfying.
Opa talks about friendships, how hard it is to make those intimate friendships where someone can share more than just laughs. It reminds me of how powerful those Quaker youth group connections were. They feel lonely without each other. Nothing can compare to their connection. If you think about it- it makes sense. They were each other's oasis in a dry landscape of nonsense and hate. Outside the Quaker walls were "heil Hitler" and an unquestioning love of nation and leader. Inside the walls were a space for exploration, questioning, different faith and maybe no faith at all. Opa goes to church and Sunday school for diplomatic reasons, and because this is as close to the Quaker group as he can find. His clubs have filled in some of the gaps of spiritual and intellectual growth that he received in the Quaker group.
Has this ever happened to you? You had that amazing experience and tried to recreate it in as many ways as you could? But it's never the same is it? I remember for the first few years out of seminary, I mourned the loss of that community of learning and growth. I tried to make new friends and engage in the same kind of conversations, but it never worked. Eventually I let go of recreating the past, and was able to embrace a present and future with new and equally meaningful experiences. But it was hard. So hard. And I felt lonely.
Opa starts to wrap up his letter with an update on his visa search. I'm realizing that he had hit a stumbling block on the naturalization process, as a pacifist, he could not promise that he would be willing to defend the United States in the military. At the same time, he knows that his success in receiving permanent residency in the US was the best chance of helping his mother. I'm frankly surprised at how much of a dilemma this was for him.
The last part Opa reserves for encouraging his friend and confidant. "Keep fighting life." He knows that Gisela is on the front-lines of a devastating way of life, and he also believes that she is a piercing light for that darkness. Keep fighting.