Fearless Dream

reflections of a pragmatic optimist, lover of freedom

Being Different

If you’re going to chart a markedly different course in life than those around you, it helps to have achieved a general degree of comfort with being different.

Thankfully, that’s something I’ve had ample experience with. From having to forge my own path through a stifling public school system and subsequently mend my relationship with formal education, to getting used to having geekier interests than many of my peers, to learning that I also diverge from those around me politically, I’ve grown plenty accustomed to going my own way.

Experiencing this in various iterations forces you to get comfortable in your own skin. You learn to trust your own carefully considered judgment, despite the implication that you may deviate uncomfortably from those around you. You trust your reasoning because you’ve been forced to think things through instead of being able to assume a default course of action. Through it all, you establish a solid self-reliance that comes in especially handy when having to perform a self-recovery.

I don’t know that there’s any simple shortcut to this level of self-assuredness. It may be something that has to be won through experience: Living enough years to notice that some aspects of who you are are constant. Weathering enough trials that you come to see that the essence of who you are is not so easily undone, and to begin to see and appreciate your differences as strengths. But if there’s one thing I wish I could assure my former self of, it’s this: It gets better. You will find in yourself a solid foundation, and every trial and challenge that you face now you will one day see as a gift in disguise.

Some of the difficulties I faced in the past with being different could perhaps have been avoided. Maybe given a different school environment, for example, I’d have been spared a few years of seemingly unnecessary wandering. But life is such a long chain of causes and effects, it’s hard to be at all sure where you’d end up after tweaking some detail or other of your past. In light of where my feet have landed, I find myself strongly tempted to say that I wouldn’t change a thing. Simply doing the same as others, even if that had been possible, wouldn’t have put me where I am. From where I now stand, with the great possibilities I see in my possession because of what I’ve been through to get here, I’m nothing but grateful for having taken a road less traveled.

Plzeň Liberation Day

An amazing 70 years ago today, the Czech town of Plzeň was liberated by the United States Army.

Plzen, 1945

Thousands of residents, visitors, and veterans gathered to celebrate this anniversary with the Plzeň Liberation Festival (Slavnosti svobodi Plzeň), as they have since 1990 when recognition of the day was no longer outlawed. My thoughts have been with the surviving veterans and our true friends the Czechs, as they celebrated this extraordinary day of hope and freedom. Na zdraví!

Plzen Liberation Day

From České Noviny:

Crowds of locals today applauded the veterans who jointly laid wreaths and flowers to the memorial.

The veterans still regret that they had to stop on the demarcation line and could not continue eastwards to liberate Prague as well.

Veterans Salute at Plzen Liberation Day

My hat is off to these men, with the deepest admiration and gratitude for their tremendous courage and sacrifice.

Radio Praha:

Perhaps one of the most moving events of the week took place on Tuesday when around 300 Czech teenagers from local schools gathered in a city cultural centre to hear veterans from Plzeň’s liberation. Altogether there were around a dozen veterans, now mostly in their nineties, both from the US and Belgium. Their broad message was simple: ‘We helped to liberate this county 70 years ago. Now it is up to you to make sure you safeguard the liberty you now enjoy.’ At the end of the session many of the veterans and audience had tears in their eyes.

Don’t miss this photo essay from 2010, which I mentioned a few years ago — especially the story of Zdenka Sladkova, who has tended a memorial at a U.S. pilot’s crash site since 1945.

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© 2015 Troy N. Stephens

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