To honor Victory-Europe Day 75 years ago, let me discuss a scene from the end of the movie, “Saving Private Ryan.” Every time I watch that movie, I am deeply moved by the sequence of events at the end.
As the army captain, Captain Miller (portrayed by Tom Hanks), is dying on the bridge, he leans over to Private Ryan (portrayed by Matt Damon) and whispers in a dying gasp — “earn this”. I must admit it took me awhile to really understand the full magnitude of this request at his death. He means that multiple lives were lost in an effort to find Private Ryan and to bring him home to his family (that had already lost their other sons in the war). He means that Private Ryan needs to honor his fallen comrades with a life of service toward others. He also means “earn this” in a much broader sense. Freedom is not free. We all have a responsibility to have an active role in our community. Thousands of soldiers died in World War II to save us from the tyranny of despotic regimes. He is saying that it is our responsibility as well as the responsibility of Private Ryan to live a life from this point forward to earn this sacrifice.
One second, Private Ryan is standing over the body of Captain Miller. The very next second, he morphs into the mature adult paying homage to Captain Miller’s gravestone at the Normandy battleground cemetery. He is there with his wife, his children, and his grandchildren. Private Ryan asks his wife if he has led a good life and I think by extension asks himself if he has “earned this” life. He is asking himself, “Did I honor Captain Miller and all of my fallen comrades by leading a life that helped others and contributed to my society?” “Did I earn this?” is the burning question in his mind.
Now what’s my point here? This movie and its ending are a poignant reminder of the responsibility of freedom and the absolute necessity of all of us to remain involved in our communities throughout our lifetimes. Only by staying involved can we be positive contributors and understand how we have to work together to make a difference. Much like life after the tragedy of 9/11, the ultimate way to respect those who lost their lives for our freedom is to live lives of community involvement with an understanding of our collective responsibility to each other.
The Take Home Message – Our lives are not really our own. We are here for a purpose that is greater than we can realize. We must stay involved to help foster a greater good. We must “earn” the sacrifice of those who died for our freedom. Our job is never done.