I’ve probably said this before, but I never know who might pop into my ride and what story or conversation we will share. Now with the Corona, ridership is down and so are the variety of folks I might pick up; perhaps there is a correlation there someplace… NOT, however, on this particular day.
I pulled into the driveway of a very tasteful, but modest home in one of the greater Boston neighborhoods. I didn’t have to wait long, in reality not at all, because there was Gerald standing at the end of his driveway awaiting my arrival. With his cane & bouquet of flowers in hand, he slowly and ever so carefully worked his way into my back seat. He was an elderly man and he turned down my request to offer him a hand, so I could tell he held a lot of pride. I was quite intrigued by this man so of course I started a friendly chat.
We started with the Corona (of course) as I was taking him to the hospital to visit his wife. I naturally thought she might be a victim of COVID-19, but it turns out she had a stroke a week earlier. As he was grasping the bouquet of flowers he mentioned he met her in college and they’ve been married for 73 years. He was a retired Harvard professor who taught physics… in other words he was incredibly intelligent and had a great memory… Oh, did I mention he was 98? I smiled when he told me.
Social Distancing of A Different Kind
This is where the conversation got interesting. As we were discussing social distancing, Gerald said to me, “You know, this is not the first time we’ve lived with social distancing.” Gerald told me that as a boy (16) living in Austria they had experienced a more intense form of social distancing from the Nazis. I could only think WOW… I get the comparison, but it gets better.
The span of time was 1939-1941 and England was the only place he could safely escape to, so he managed to get there but left his parents behind. His father was an attorney and his mother a physical therapist, but England was not accepting any more Austrians. Gerald scoured the documents and found a loophole allowing only immigrants that were butlers or maids… and he quickly convinced his reluctant parents to buy in (& did they really have a choice?).
Life was hard in England as they lived in labor camps, which was still a better alternative than what the Nazis were offering. Things changed when there was a possible threat that the Nazis might succeed in invading England. Gerald knew that they had to flee again, but this time to America. The only problem was the US would not allow any Austrian refugees (kinda makes sense back in the day). Things brightened up when they found an organization called the IRC which offered a national rescue program for Austrian refugees.
Being Cared For
As Gerald mentioned, “They really looked out for us.” The IRC offered transportation and a place to live in Hoboken, NJ and since they were broke they received 1 month of living expenses so they could figure out their next move (surprisingly, they did not go to Ellis Island). His parents found menial jobs and Gerald once again found a way to improve on his current situation. This seemed to be an ongoing theme. Through the IRC, Gerald discovered there was a full scholarship program offered to German refugees. From 200 colleges he ended up at Drexel University in Philadelphia.
A Brighter Future
After graduating, Gerald eventually attended Harvard University where he received his PHD in physics and remained as a professor. This is where he met his wife and has not left her side since. It’s not often that you meet someone like Gerald, who at 98 is sharper than most, survived a horrific period in time, and has a love so strong that it still holds true 73 years after they tied the knot. It is interesting how he compares today’s COVID-19 social distancing with a time so long ago.… both can lead to a sentence of death if not careful, but they differ in that one was spread by a virus while the other was spread by fear and hate… you might say it was social distancing of a different kind, an extreme kind! We beat the one so long ago and we will beat this one too. Stay Healthy, Stay Safe, Stay Strong.
*The names, gender & locations may have been changed to protect the innocent.
©Driving Insights 2020