Somehow this fall I lost an entire month. It could have had something to do with twenty four days that I spent gallivanting around Europe this past month as a McCloy fellow. All I know is that I left West Virginia when it was green, sunny, and 75 degrees. The cattle were still happily grazing on the pastures and the corn was standing tall in the fields. I returned and there were no leaves on the trees, the corn was all gone, and the grass had stopped growing. A couple days later, it snowed.
It is hard to believe that my fellowship is now over and the holidays are upon us. I learned so much while in Germany and I am grateful for the lessons I was taught there. This week, as I watch the news celebrating the 25 year anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, remember our military on Veterans’ Day, and prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving, I am particularly struck by the things I sometimes take for granted. I have so much to be thankful for.
Before traveling to Germany, I had never fully comprehended the huge impact that the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain had on the people of what was East and West Germany. The more people we talked to, the more we picked up on the fact that time is often divided into two categories – “before the wall came down” and “after the wall came down.” Small family farms did not exist in East Germany before the wall came down because farms were combined into cooperatives by the former German Democratic Republic (GDR) during the Soviet rule. Even today, the farms in that part of the country are quite a bit larger than those in West Germany with an average size of 538 acres. Farms in West Germany, however, were family farms and as land was handed down to generation to generation they became smaller and smaller as each child received a share. The average farm size in the west today is about 100 acres.
As a fifth generation farmer whose family owns and farms land that has been passed down since the Civil War, it was very humbling to me to hear the stories of people picking a farm up from the ruins and trying to start something new. I will forever remember a comment made in a meeting we had with two staff of a local farm association in East Germany. The younger of the two men grew up under the GDR and clearly remembers the new opportunities available to him as a twenty year old when the wall came down. He said that democracy today was such a confusing mess because everyone just does what he or she wants to. The older man looked at him and said, “Yes, but you are free.”
How often do I truly appreciate the fact that I am free? I may not agree with some of the laws our government passes and I may vehemently oppose the direction our country is led in at times, but I am free. And I have never known any other way. The very recent struggles of the German people humbled me. As I celebrate Thanksgiving this year, I will offer up a prayer of Thanksgiving not only for being blessed to live the life of a farmer, but to live the life of an American. Never before have I appreciated what that meant quite so much.
Have a blessed Thanksgiving!