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MyView: Compassion: The power of the future

December 10, 2012

By Raymond Cohlmia, D.D.S.

October 9, 1945: A frosty morning in Waterford, a quaint little town nestled in a valley in the mountains of Pennsylvania. A 10-year old boy named Cliff sits in a classroom looking out the window and gazed into the sky. He sees a squadron of 21 fighter planes flying in formation right over the school. He remembers it well because he not only sees and hears them, but he can feel them actually shake the ground as they fly over. The planes circle back around and continue in formation. They then straighten out and fly the original course, but this time the boy only counts 20 planes.

Another individual: Jim, the son of one of the first men to the crash site who also recovered the remnants of the crash. This son remembers the stories of his father. Back in 1945, his father was intimately involved with this difficult and traumatic event.

Flash forward to 1980: A young man named Tom is hiking in the area of those same Pennsylvania mountains. He comes upon an old crash site and sees a large airplane engine protruding half out of the ground at a 45-degree angle. Rust particles and fragmented metal encase the engine and what appears to be a section of the propeller. He sees no other pieces of the plane. As he inspects what he has found, he wonders what circumstances led this plane to its final fate.

Much later: Mike, another young man with a passion for hunting and the outdoors, contacts a newspaper after seeing an article about a family that had searched for a loved one who had disappeared many years ago. The young man senses what they were looking for; he had been there many times and knew exactly where it was.

These four people are just "normal" people but they are also shining examples of hope and compassion. All of them came together at a crucial time in my life to provide understanding, learning and closure for my father and several other members of my family.

You see, each of these individuals I spoke about spent a meaningful and important weekend with my family to create a memory of a lifetime and, for me personally, to instill a promise of the future of mankind.

Cliff, the little boy who watched the planes with wonder from his schoolroom in 1945, was one of a group of people that carried a memorial plaque up the mountain to the crash site three years after the crash. He was also the grandson of the pastor who had personally met with my grandparents in 1945 to deliver special items from the crash site and to pray with them for their son who was lost in the crash.

Jim's father managed the extraction of the two men that were lost in the crash. Tom, the man who hiked in those mountains during the '80s, began to research the families involved with the plane crash. Tom sought out my family to let us know that a special place had been created for my father's brother, who died at age 19 on Oct. 9, 1945.

Mike, the hunter who had contacted the paper to reach my family, let us know that he could lead us right to the old crash site. He even arranged for all the restricted access papers necessary to get us there. He and his brother even went a few days earlier to clear the difficult pathway so my father and mother could hike down the trail.

As I think back on this experience—clearly one of the most memorable moments in my life—I'm reminded that we are all so dependent on each other and on how we treat our fellow man. While this memory may not have much to do directly with dentistry, it has everything to do with the principles of our profession. As we approach the coming season of giving, I am reminded that our profession is built on compassion, understanding and assisting our fellow man.

The selflessness and genuine love shown to us by Mike, Cliff, Jim and Tom during this moving episode in my family's life is evidence that we will be just fine in the future. I am sure of this because we have compassion.

Dr. Cohlmia is the editor of the Oklahoma Dental Association Journal. His comments, reprinted here with permission, originally appeared in the November issue of the ODA Journal.