You see, Grandpa, our country was attacked on Sept. 11, 2001. That day changed me, as Pearl Harbor probably did you. I don't know how you initially reacted, but I haven't been able to live my life the same since.
Because you came from what Tom Brokaw called "The Greatest Generation," I write to you now. History knocked at your door; you answered it. But I am wondering what my generation is doing, now that history has summoned us. How will we be looked upon, decades from now, when people study the post-9/11 era?
Many people say Americans are not contributing to our country equally since the terrorist attacks, and I have to agree. Some are fighting abroad, while others give, build, create, or make their voices heard. But there are still others who live life as usual and haven't done much in this time of need.
Grandpa, this is how I look at the world now. I cannot go back to living the same way, with the typical goals: searching for a good job and a decent house, getting married and having kids. Those are worthwhile goals, some of which I've already achieved, but that can't be all I do now. I must give back, too, as you guys did; I must contribute in some way.
The baby boomers, my parents' generation, made their contribution in different ways. Though they were divided in many ways, they made their own political and historical impact when history called on them.
My mother, whom you also never met, fought for civil rights. She fought for a cause she believed in: equal rights for all people. Your son (my dad) joined the Navy. By that time, Vietnam had ended, but he still fulfilled his obligations. They, like you, did not sit back and indulge themselves in oases of superficiality.
Lately, I've been looking at many people of my generation (in our 20s and 30s) and realizing that we seem to have lost sight of what our contribution should be. We initially stepped up after Sept. 11, but many of us have gone back to living our old lives, not caring what happens in our country and the world.
What of the American soldier in Iraq, longing for home? What of the Afghan youth, unsure how to view America? What of the needy here? We need to help all, especially now.
Grandpa, I'm not Mother Teresa. I definitely didn't donate much time to services or causes in the past. I still have fun on the weekends and live what most in the United States would call a normal life.
But I live life with more of a conscience now. I donate my time to kids, serving as a Big Brother and sponsoring a child in Egypt. Of course, I think of material things every now and then, but the difference is that now I get involved in other causes.
The wars, especially the one in Iraq, have split our country into two. While many have made their voices heard for or against the wars, others would rather talk about Ben and Jen, Jacko or Paris Hilton. And it doesn't make it bad to talk about that stuff, as long as in the back of our minds we are thinking of ways to help.
We need to focus on doing more good and fewer selfish acts. Our generation has been called, and we shouldn't remain stagnant in our own little worlds of self-interest while storm clouds gather.
Grandpa, your sacrifice makes me think forward to when we're older. Another Brokaw will come along years from now to write about our generation's legacy. Our kids and grandkids will ask us what we did during this time. What kind of legacy will we leave?
We need to be thinking now about our answer.
Your grandson, Steve.
Stephen Chernoski, a sixth-grade teacher in Upper Township, writes from Somers Point, N.J.