I was born on September 16, 1944. It was a Saturday. My mother said I arrived just in time for lunch. But what was happening elsewhere in the world the day I was born? And did these events somehow influence who I became?
I was born in the midst of World War II, that massive armed conflict that killed more people than any other war in human history. On the day I was born the Allies launched a military operation called Operation Market Garden. The objective of the campaign was to secure a series of bridges in German-occupied Netherlands as well as those leading into Germany. Though initially successful (the Belgium town of Eeklo was liberated on my actual birth date), the campaign was ultimately a failure—due largely (some analysts say) to the weather. The failure of this campaign prevented the Allies from liberating northern Netherlands before the winter of ’44-’45, resulting in the horrific hongerwinter (Hunger Winter) in which tens of thousands of Dutch civilians died of cold and starvation.
The estimated casualties for Operation Market Garden, begun on my birth date and lasting until September 25, were 500 Dutch Civilians, 8,500 Germans, and 16,100 Allied Forces, including 3,700 Americans.
Two weeks before I was born, on September 2, 1944, Anne Frank and her family were placed on the last transport train from Westerbork, Netherlands to Auschwitz. Anne was eventually transferred to the concentration camp in Bergen-Belsen where she died of typhus in March 1945, just three months before Germany surrendered. One day in the future, when I was 14, I would read the diary she started writing on her 13th birthday while in hiding, and I would be forever inspired by her courage, idealism, and her amazing ability to put her thoughts and experiences into words.
The day I was born, U.S. Marines were fighting on Peleiu Island in the Pacific. In Europe, Soviet forces were advancing toward Riga, Latvia. The day I was born Adolf Hitler was meeting with his military advisers at Wolfsschanze in East Prussia. The day I was born Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt were concluding their meeting in Quebec, a meeting that finalized their war strategy. And on the day I was born, Mahatma Gandhi was addressing a prayer meeting in Bombay.
I was born amid the carnage of war. While thousands of people were dying in horrible ways, I was being wrapped in a pink blanket and driven to the small farm tucked safely away in northeast Ohio where my sister and two brothers eagerly awaited my arrival. And there I would be fed and cared for by two loving parents. We were not, however, untouched by the war. No one was. My Dad, a tool and die maker, was working long hours helping to produce the massive fleet of airplanes needed in the war. My six uncles were all in the military fighting in various countries in Europe. And at my birth, I was issued a ration book which my mother saved. It lists my height as 21 inches and my weight as 7 lbs. 8 ozs.
We are all born into a particular time and place. Sometimes we foolishly wish we had been born earlier or later or elsewhere. But I have come to believe that each of us is born at exactly the right time and our birth date is all part of God’s providence for us. And in the times and places we find ourselves, God’s grace is always moving and stirring us to greater love.
We call God’s care for us Divine Providence. But belief in Divine Providence doesn’t mean we sit idly by and wait for God to do all the work. As the old proverb says, “God feeds the sparrows, but God doesn’t toss their food into their nests!” Instead, we must partner with Divine Providence and, using our personal resources, help to move the world toward greater wholeness and peace.
- What was happening in the world on the day you were born? (Check the internet or a history book).
- When and how have you experienced Divine Providence in your life?
God of Divine Providence, thank you for my birthday.
Thank you for my parents who, with you, gave me the gift of life.
Thank you for all the blessings that nurtured my growing up
and for the hardships and challenges that played a role in my maturing.
May the celebration of every birthday remind me how precious time really is,
and may it encourage me to use my days well.
Help me to welcome babies and children into this world. And by partnering with you in small but steady ways, may I help to make this world a better place for all of us.
This is a new song about Divine Providence by Jason Gray entitled “Sparrows.” It’s based on Matthew 10:29: “Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge.”
Do you have any comments on today’s reflection? If so, we’d all love to hear from you!