This article was written and submitted by Lee Marcus of Arkport (Steuben County).
My father didn’t die in Italy during WWII, but the rest of his unit did (all but one), and it happened in one night—the same night he witnessed the burning of the church with all the Italian villagers locked inside, screaming for help. Two nights later, he suffered another battle almost as horrifying as that one. The Nazis were determined to shed all the Allied blood they could as they withdrew into the Alps, defeated. My father was unable to put these atrocities behind him and only lived to the age of 55, never explaining to his children about that bronze star or any of the rest. He did have some good times in his life, in spite of what was missing—that thing most of us take for granted: peace of mind. My father had seen and heard and felt things no one ever should. Things the human heart cannot reconcile.
My mother lost a brother she adored, her next younger sibling and best friend. A handsome, well-liked Hornell boy, John Long went missing in the South Pacific and was never found. My mother could not talk about this loss. I’m not sure she ever stopped waiting.
I miss both of my parents, but I cannot not wish them back. When I think of the sacrifices they made for their country, of how ferociously they believed in the righteousness of the American cause—well, my heart sinks. I would not, could not wish them here to see what has become of their legacy. I am ashamed. Mortified.
The nation that pitched in every resource, every ounce of purpose and resolve, e pluribus unum, is now a hot mess of discord and division. We have a president and vice president who have signaled that they do not subscribe to the peaceful transfer of power, the very bedrock of the American experiment. Armed vigilantes have been told to stand by, and the country holds its breath as if on the verge of disintegration, threatened not by foreign invaders but by the vigilantes themselves, self-appointed guardians of America’s closet with its renounced and rotting skeletons: white supremacy and patriarchy.
This could go either way. The forces of darkness are jonesing for civil war and a return to the bad old days. The other side is building toward breakthrough: some kind of rainbow dawn involving atonement, reparation, forgiveness, and healing. Then the march onward together to beat back climate change and realize a more perfect union, ameliorating extreme poverty and obscene greed. A future molded of justice and what we used to call brotherly love.
I don’t know what to expect. But I do know that what I saw in my parents and their generation is what I’m looking for now as we head into the election of 2020. In a word, character. It’s old news that elections have consequences; now it’s been drilled home that consequences are a function of character. We ignore character at our peril. You don’t say, you might say.
The importance of character is the very thing that makes character assassination such a handy tool for candidates whose records are too weak to run on. These guys are easy to spot from their advertising. They skip the part about what they’ll do for their constituents, because they don’t want us asking what they’ve done so far in the many years they’ve been in office already. They vandalize the photographs and reputations of their opponents, spewing hot-button epithets: liar! extremist!—also vandalizing democracy in the process. These are little men.
Meanwhile, this time around, we are rich in options. Energetic new candidates high on vision and purpose, and most of all: character. I am leaning in, heart and soul, for two in particular: Tracy Mitrano (for Congress) and Leslie Danks Burke (NY Senate). By now I have come to know them both pretty well, and for me, these women are a source of real hope—the same hope embodied in the poetry of our nation’s founding documents. All men are created equal. Liberty and justice for all. That may sound corny, but right now, we can’t afford any more cynicism. A once-great nation is on its knees and the church is on fire. Help get us out of this. Choose character, up and down the ticket.