|"In the day of trouble|
He will hide me in His pavilion;
In the secret place of His tabernacle
He shall hide me;
He shall set me high upon a rock."
Psalm 27: 5 NKJV
It was 1956. I was a little girl attending a Catholic school in Chicago, where I wore poodle skirts and bobby socks with saddle shoes or penny loafers. I was beginning to notice boys and listen to the rock and roll music blasting on my brother’s transistor radio. I always left home with a dime in my pocket to call home in an emergency from the telephone booth on the street corner. I watched the Mickey Mouse Club after school and occasionally was allowed to drink a six ounce bottle of Root Beer for a treat.
On Saturdays, if I could find a quarter, I walked over to the Movie Theater up the street to watch Saturday cartoons on the big screen. The world was celebrating Elvis Presley on the Ed Sullivan Show, “Ike” was in the White House, WW II was behind us, and, we imagined ourselves relatively safe in the world. I was blissfully unaware of what was going on half way across the world as the Russian Bear roared and threatened and, finally, in 1956, invaded its neighbor, Hungary. I seldom watched the news and never heard my parents talking about the horror of having one’s homeland invaded by a foreign tyrant that rolled over everything in its path. This wasn’t supposed to be happening. After all, Hitler had been defeated, the War was over and we were “at peace".
Into this little girl’s fantasy land, slipped a little boy who sat next to me in my fourth grade class. He didn’t speak any English. He didn’t have any friends. He was alone all the time. He looked frightened to me. His name was Charles and I was fascinated by this stranger who showed up in the middle of the school year, as if dropped from the sky. Why in the world would his parents move him in the middle of the school year? What was that funny language he was speaking? Didn’t everybody speak English? Why was he so nervous? Why was he so “different”?
In the most stunning geography/history lesson I had ever received, the answers were laid out before the class one day soon after Charles’ arrival. The teacher explained that Charles was a “refugee.” His family had fled with their children to the United States to escape the tyranny of Russia, who had boldly and viciously invaded Hungary with tanks that rolled right over citizens who resisted the invasion. The brutality of their invasion was well documented. All of the world knew. And all of the world looked the other way. Those who were able, fled their homeland and became refugees all over the world, especially in the United States, prized for her reputation of liberty and religious freedom. Here, sitting right next to me, was the child of parents who had fled for their lives, and the lives of their children, to my homeland, America.
I was just a child of ten. The only “hungry” I had ever heard of was when my tummy rumbled and demanded to be fed. But, here was a child my own age, whose life had been lived in a country far, far away, called Hungary. What had he seen on the streets of his homeland as Russian tanks rolled down the streets killing anyone who dared to oppose their invasion? How did he feel when he had to say goodbye to all of his friends and relatives? How did he now handle having no friends and no one at school who spoke his language?
I stared at this little boy the way children do, unabashedly. To me, he was a hero. He represented resistance to evil and courage to do whatever it takes to be free. I think I may have had my first case of “puppy love” with a boy I couldn’t speak to in a language he understood. But, he spoke to me a language that transcends nationalities, just by his presence.
I don’t remember much about history, and geography was always my worst subject. But, I have never forgotten the lessons I learned that year as a frightened little boy of ten brought history to my doorstep and made me an eyewitness to the reality of evil marching across the world, displacing and murdering everything that got in its way.
I hope and pray America hasn’t forgotten the lessons of fifty years ago as the Russian Bear exposes its ugly teeth and claws once again, across the sea in Ukraine. My prayers are with the people of the Ukraine. And the people of the United States…