If We Don’t Know Our History

If We Don’t Know Our History

…we are doomed to repeat it.

DOOMED TO REPEAT IT?!?!!?!  Well that’s just, sad

(For those of you who’ve seen Katt Williams’ comedy i.e. the dude above– I totally said that in his voice; for those of you who have no clue who he is- he’s friggin’ hilarious- go watch). 

I digress.

We’ve all heard this quote at some point or another- many of us from our history teachers when they were trying to get us to “care” about history class- one of the (dare I say)– “less interesting” topics for a teenager. Now I’m not knocking history, and even though I was a valedictorian with a “studyallthetimebecauseI’msupposedto” attitude, I still haaaaaaated history in high school. Yes, hate is a strong word, but I found it to be a total SNOOZEFEST.

No really, please elaborate on how the post Napoleonic War of 1812 when the U.S. took on Great Britain from preventing maritime tradefromthe…………………..zzzzzzzzzzzzz…………………Sorry, I had fallen asleep there for a second… 

Ironically, I spend hours of my life blogging about the elderly which some might associate with watching paint dry, but I say “NAY! Mr. Gray is fascinating!!!

Before you history buffs get all in a tizzy, my opinion has changed. Yes, my dear friends, I now find myself sucked into riveting PBS series on Hitler’s bunkers and I LIKE IT. But I’m sure that’s many of us right? As we get older, we begin to recognize and appreciate the relevance of the who, what, and how that came before us. 

You know who came before us? Oh you know it’s comin’….. THE ONE, THE ONLY, MR. GRAY. 

Yes, folks, he’s the OG (original Gangster for you non-Millenials). He’s been there, done that. Probably a bunch of times, actually. His experience makes him wise. His stories make him interesting. And in some cases, his sacrifice makes him honorable. Here’s an amazing example of a high school kid who knows these truths and dedicates his life to taking action:


HOLY MOLY. This really is an incredible story—While other people his age are busy snapchatting animal faces, this young man, Rishi, travels the world and sleeps in his car just to hear stories of Mr. Gray. It really makes you think: most of us spend so much time talking and sharing ourselves with the world via Facebook, Instagram, etc. It’s like we’re all so obsessed with our own lives (everywhere we visit, political tirades, don’t I look pretty selfies, the cool beer we just ordered) that it’s like daaaamn, we basically spend our days bragging about ourselves and sharing complete nonsense. It’s truly a narcissistic waste of life nearly everyone is caught up in— myself included. 

While we have our faces in our phones, this young man is doing something far more meaningful with his time.

He is obsessed with capturing the stories of others, stories that are far more rich, deep, and valuable to the heart of our lives and our future. These Mr. Gray WWII Vets are dying with invaluable insight, lessons, and information to share with the world. And not only is this young man saving it for the benefit of all of us, he is doing one of the greatest things for Mr. Gray: He is showing him he sees him and is listening.

This is the pledge I have taken– to SEE Mr. Gray —and you can take it too on my home page. 

I can’t take anywhere near the credit of Rishi who has interviewed 850 WWII Vets so far (GO DUDE), but I did do something similar while getting my Master’s Degree in Gerontology (study of seniors). I was assigned to interview 3 elderly folks who were in different phases of their old age- 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s. My grandpa (original Mr. Gray) was a perfect subject as he was about 95 at the time. I took a few hours and talked to him about his childhood, his time as a Marine in WWII, etc. It only took me a few hours to interview and a few more to document it, but man, THAT WAS ONE OF THE GREATEST MOST VALUABLE THINGS I EVER SPENT MY TIME DOING. Here are just 2 excerpts and the lessons they taught me:

“…when asked about the onset of the Great Depression, Lenny chuckled and remarked: ‘Dad was raising nine kids, so as far as he was concerned, he had already been in living in the Great Depression!’ As one can imagine, Lenny’s dad struggled to support his large family. As his dad ‘didn’t have time for words,’ Lenny and his siblings grew up in a strict household where ‘whippings’ were common, and where money difficulties left the children unable to purchase anything, including toys. Lenny had to resort to creating his own entertainment, a task which retrospectively was one of his greatest enjoyments as a child. One of his fondest memories was building a homemade wagon or ‘gig,’ built from roller skates and a 2 x 4 and riding it when complete. ”

Gray Lesson #1: You don’t have to have a lot to have fun in life. With a good attitude and some creativity, you can make life as fun as you want it to be. 

“Lenny’s fun-filled days were short-lived due to the onset of WWII. His desire to marry his long-term girlfriend was postponed during the early years of the war due to his high classification in the draft. When his classification was lowered in 1941, Lenny and his girlfriend finally decided it was an opportune time to marry. A few days after returning from their honeymoon, Pearl Harbor was bombed, devastating Lenny and his wife as he could be called to serve at a moment’s notice. Days and then months passed without event, and his wife became pregnant. One week after the birth of their first child in January 1944, Lenny was drafted into the war, and his repeated appeals to have extended time at home were refused. This event served as the most difficult experience in his entire life: ‘The biggest change in my life was when I had to leave my wife when she was just home from the hospital. It upset me. I waited and delayed my marriage so many years and then I had to go and leave my wife and newborn.’”

Gray Lesson #2: Sometimes timing is a *excuse my French* b-i-t-c-h. But you get through it and your relationships become stronger for it. 

Capturing my grandpa’s history was priceless– not only as a WWII vet who sacrificed so much for his country and for generations to come, not only as a memory capsule for me and my family, but beyond that— as a snapshot of the life of a man who has LIVED so much and LEARNED so much that is valuable to us all.

This is what we all must do, as Rishi realized, even just one person at a time. I encourage you to take the time (and sometimes it’s only an hour or so), to interview your own Mr. Gray (family member, friend, neighbor). Document their story. And share it with the world. 

I’ll leave you with these presh photos & video of Leonard Rusnak on his 90th bday that I hope will give you all “the feels!”

The original Mr. Gray. The father. The grandfather. The great man who shared his story with me, and now I am doing my part by sharing a piece of him with the world as often as I can.