Yesterday, I played the piano at a funeral for a friend who died last week. It was not unexpected - he was 92 years old and in failing health - but it was sudden. He died late Thursday night but I didn't hear about it until Sunday morning and not twenty minutes later, I'd agreed to play for a duet of vocalists and we were trying to figure out how to throw something together that a) honored him and b) sounded good, knowing that we had about an hour to practice before the funeral. In the end, we just turned to his favorite hymn in the church hymnbook and all improvised together - me comping chords and pretending I knew how to do that kind of thing and one of the singers improvising an obbligato over the other one's melody. Afterward, a man in attendance who studies the organ pretty seriously pulled me aside and gave us all a nice compliment by asking if he could have a copy of the arrangement we used because he'd really enjoyed it and would like to perform it somewhere too. I was like, "Um... no." Then explained that we probably couldn't repeat it again if we tried, but if he had any good arrangements he'd like to share with me it might be a little less stressful the next time I'm asked to do something like that. Ah, musicians.

The eulogy for this man was eye opening. I've known him almost as long as we've lived here and I was superficially aware of things that had happened to him in his lifetime, but as the saying goes, I had no idea.

He was born in Germany during World War I only a few days before his father was sent to fight on the front lines. His father was quickly killed in action, leaving his mother to raise him alone. She then died four years later from an illness and he was sent to be raised by an aunt he'd never met. As a young man, he was drafted against his wishes into Hitler's army and forced to fight for a cause he didn't believe in. He received a three day furlough after what amounted to basic training to marry his wife and was then immediately sent to the Russian front, where he was taken as a prisoner of war. He didn't see his wife again for the next five years. Somehow, he survived that and after the war the family was sent back to Berlin just as the wall was going up there. They ended up on the Eastern side and could not leave. Through a series of what I can only term as miraculous events, he escaped with his wife and their young son to come to America. In Washington, D.C., he worked for the German embassy under more than a few American Presidents - many of his colleagues were in attendance at the funeral.

During the service, it was pointed out by a confidante that recently he had begun having flashbacks of things he'd done and seen during World War II and was concerned that he would never be forgiven. This weighed heavily on his conscience and occupied his thinking much of the time for the last several years of his life. I saw him every week in church and was never given a clue. He was never anything but happy, smiling and sang to my daughter in German as she danced around his cane, and later his walker. Despite living under horrible conditions, he had nothing but love for the Russian people and talked about them with respect. More than once, I heard him describe the moral conflict he had while being forced to fight for Hitler and only express gratitude for the way things had turned out for him and his family despite a storybook of experiences and events they lived through - any one of which would make a normal person feel otherwise. They never had grandchildren, thanks to a physical attack on their young adult son while he served as a missionary which left him with life long physical and mental problems and kept him from marrying. All the family they had were the three of them - everyone else had been killed in the war or left behind when they left Germany. But all I heard from his wife at the viewing was introductions of people who were "like a daughter" to her to other people who were "like a grandson" to her.

I watched all this yesterday with wonder - from the viewing, to the service, to the grave site, and then back to the church again for an unreasonable amount of food afterward. How could they seem so grateful for all they had been through? Why am I not more grateful for my pitiful little trials - or at least less bitter? I've studied human behavior for a long time and I don't know any more now than I did in my high school psychology class what makes one person rise above the horrible things that happen to them and another crumble under a ridiculously unmatched amount of pressure. Maybe it's biological... maybe it's just... a choice. I think sometimes when it comes right down to it, some people just choose to be happy.

So when I got up this morning and looked at the unfinished post I'd written yesterday morning about all the things I hate about pregnancy and bitching about the physical problems I will look forward to saying goodbye to once this baby is born, it felt somehow inappropriate to finish and publish. Just for today, I'm going to try to be grateful for them instead.