As much as I love the movie Schindler’s List, I have little desire to see it again. I’ve seen it twice and both times were exhausting. Maybe it’s the disturbing black and white visuals of this dark time in human history when so many millions of Jews were killed and millions more displaced. Maybe it’s that the acting and directing are both so good that I lose myself in this film that triggers so many deep emotions. Not that I need to see it again to remember it, I can replay most of it in my head any time I want and the ending will never leave me.
This scene is right as the war is ending and Oskar Schindler, a greedy German businessman who turns into a humanitarian after witnessing Nazi atrocities and ends up saving about 1100 Jews, is reflecting on his rescue efforts. I love this point in the movie because it shows that there is hope for all of us—that even a selfish individual can become a hero. Oskar’s final dialog is telling regarding his character change. He starts to realize that his factory scam to keep his group of Jews out of the concentration camps worked and reality was setting in.
“I could have got more out. I could have got more. I don’t know. If I’d just… I could have got more. I didn’t do enough!”
“This car. Goeth would have bought this car. Why did I keep the car? Ten people right there. Ten people. Ten more people. This pin. Two people. This is gold. Two more people. He would have given me two for it, at least one. One more person.”
Sometimes we can’t see what our efforts will accomplish or if they will even matter until there’s an outcome. If it turns out to be a failure, we bemoan our mistakes, but success creates its own problems. Oskar resisted expanding his efforts because he was afraid he’d get caught and he would suffer along with those he worked to free. Once he saw that his plan was a success, Oskar started to wonder why he didn’t do more. What should have been a celebration for him instead turned into regret—if only he had done more. He had a car and jewelry that could be turned into bribe money to save more people. He was consumed with his reality that he didn’t do enough. Generations of those he saved will disagree and have honored him.
Unlike Oskar, there will be no stones left on my grave; I have done nothing to save generations of lives, but the desire of Schindler to have done more strikes a chord with me. When he says, “I didn’t do enough!,” it echoes in my brain as I page through memories of my life. There are things that I could have done better. Times I could have done so much more.
I work hard to keep these pangs of guilt from becoming true regrets. My world view, which is tainted by many time travel sci-fi episodes of Doctor Who and Star Trek, is that everything happened as it should have. Changing even one tiny decision in the past would change what I have or who I am today. The smallest tweak of history wouldn’t happen without a cascade effect on my present and future. Time is fragile and not to be tampered with or viewed as an a la carte meal. Once dinner has been served, there’s no swapping out the courses.
For example, my father was very athletic in his younger years. He told many stories about his high school years as a track star, and as a young adult, his amateur boxing and prowess on the football field. By the time I was born, he was in his forties and limited his sports to softball and bowling with less and less time on the field as his knees and other body parts started to fail him. Even in his reduced state, I saw him as an amazing athlete. He knew so much about every sport and taught me how to break in a baseball glove, use my body to block a grounder, tips on boxing, and several courses on how to handle a football. Some of my favorite memories are having a catch with my dad. But outside of being on a bowling team, I avoided all organized sports.
That may sound insane with all the sports focus in my youth, but I was worried that I wouldn’t measure up to my dad—that he’d be ashamed of me if I couldn’t be a star. My older brother, Bobby, played soccer, a sport our dad never tried. He died before I was old enough to ask him, but I’d guess he chose that sport for a similar reason and didn’t want to compete with the stories any more than me.
One year my dad even coached a football team on a summer league, which would have been a safe place for me to start with my mentor in charge. It’s not that I didn’t think I had any skills—even as a 120-pound teen I could squirm away from tackles and carry a bigger dude on my back for several yards. But fear of not being good enough for him kept me on the sidelines. I always wished I could change that decision. It would have given me more time with my dad and more confidence during my challenging teenage times.
Instead of athletics, I went for top grades in school. Most courses came easy to me and weren’t something I could opt out of like sports, so I tried to be a star student. This path didn’t do much for my social life. Picture a skinny, pale boy whose good grades made him a favorite of many teachers and you probably don’t see a lot of girls hanging around that kid. You’d more likely visualize me hanging with the smart kids, but I was smarter than I was hard working causing my grades to be just shy of exceptional and keeping me out of the top ten percent of my class. This meant that I didn’t fit with the honor student clique—who probably played Star Trek Tri-Dimensional Chess and spoke Latin to each other. I didn’t drink, smoke, or do drugs, so I was shunned by the cool kids and the “heads” (what stoners were called back then). As I already mentioned, not participating in sports disqualified me from the jocks clique. That meant I was pretty much on my own. I had a handful of friends each year and that was enough for me to survive my social isolation.
I met Judy when my best friend—oddly enough, a jock from my dad’s football team—introduced us. By that time, I had also grown an afro—yes, being pale and skinny wasn’t enough for me, I had to find new ways to repel girls. Luckily my future wife didn’t reject me on sight and we went on to build a relationship that has lasted more than 36 years.
But what if I had joined a football team? What if I wasn’t too afraid to take a chance and did become a jock? What if this one change kept me from meeting the love of my life?
Or maybe I would have met Judy, but I might have been a jerk sporting a testosterone-infused ego—my insecurities triggered enough stupid relationship gaffes as it was. Before meeting this woman, I had built enormous emotional walls around myself. It took her years to get me to talk honestly about my emotions and that’s just one little part of me that she fixed. Without her, I’d be a completely different man—a much lesser human being. And our kids, I can’t imagine my life without our three, now adult, children.
Thinking about my kids, I’d love to go back and be a better dad for them. I think about the time we spent together and I wonder if there was enough quality time. What if I had been more patient and spent more time teaching them sports, or programming, or anything that I didn’t do enough of? Would they have had an easier time in school or more job opportunities now? Looking back, I see so many missed moments when they were growing up.
Which brings me back to the whole struggle of being enough in this world. The past is gone and there’s no TARDIS or crack in time that I can use to go back and make adjustments. Even if I could, it’s way too dangerous to touch anything in my timeline and risk losing anyone that I love. All the past pain and loss and mistakes are stones that make up the foundation of today. Remove one small pebble and everything could crumble. What would I trade today to remove a regret of my past? Nothing.
If I wasn’t enough of who I needed to be at any point in my history, the only way to fix that is to be even an even better me in the present; to dive so deep into life that my chest aches from the swirl of everything going on around me and I have to burst from the depths every so often, take a huge breath, and go again.
Playing it safe isn’t an option if I want to be able to look back on this time and know that I did enough. Judy and I have been given so many opportunities with our new careers, our new city, and our new lifestyle—we can’t afford to squander this time. For me, doing enough means not letting fear drive decisions. I can’t be afraid to take on new challenges at work or try new experiences in my personal life. Keep growing and continue evolving is the plan.
Being enough for my family means finding a balance between work and home and a balance between interaction and intervention. I want my kids to evolve and grow, but I need to let them find their own paths. I also need to be real to them—flawed enough so they know they can overcome mistakes like I have. In some ways, my father was too perfect in my eyes. He was smart, athletic, popular, and could command respect from a child or adult with a stern look and a crooked, arthritic index finger raised into the air. He didn’t share his mistakes and failures with me until the last few years of his life, which was a shame. Maybe I could have been different if I saw him differently.
But then again, I wouldn’t be who I am today if he was different—and I really love my life. What I got from my dad seems like it was enough.