ADAM RORABAUGH left the shores of his German homeland at age 36, together with his wife Maria and five children, and landed in America in 1831. Two brothers also accompanied him on a stormy, 77-day sailboat voyage across the Atlantic. Driven off course during the trip, they landed at Havre de Grace, Maryland, in the Chesapeake Bay. After making their way to New York City, it is presumed the three brothers parted, never to meet or hear from each other again.
Adam’s grandson, Henry Rorabaugh, left his home and family in 1910 for the nearby railyard in Conemaugh, Pennsylvania. One day, he was assigned as engineer of Pennsylvania Railroad Engine No. 32, moving freight to Altoona, near the famous Horseshoe Curve. The boiler of his engine failed in a horrific explosion, raining tons of mangled steel on the adjacent rail beds. There were many injuries. Henry was killed instantly, along with two of his associates. This rendered Henry’s wife Emeline a single mother of seven children. Photos of the family after Henry’s death tell a story of hardship and poverty that are impossible for me to comprehend. Henry’s son Blaine, who was six years old at the time of the accident, would be my grandfather.
Exploration of my family history through tools like Ancestry.com has introduced me to numerous stories of heartbreak, scarcity and struggle. Many involve tiny coffins. Most are in remote areas of Appalachia or Virginia’s Tidewater region, and many removed by just two or three generations. When I am tempted to despair over some modern inconvenience, it is helpful to glance back to a time when hope did not look far past survival.
Of course, there are places where these stories are playing out today, such as Syria, Puerto Rico and Sudan, and in numbers that are difficult to grasp. We watch on our plasma televisions with pity, drenched in our insular virtue.
My prayer for my family and yours this Thanksgiving is that we each find some historical and global perspective for our truly abundant blessings. Our western culture has offered us prosperity and comfort that few outside our tiny window of time and space could imagine. As we consider this, I hope we are moved—no, compelled—to bless others in their time of need. That to their scarcity, we can add some of our abundance. In their fear, we can offer safety. In their pain, we can provide comfort. In their struggle, we can show hope. And that all this will create a virtuous cycle of gratitude and compassion in our own families and our communities.
When not paddling, biking or shooting, Phil Dawson provides technical services for a global auto manufacturer. He, his sweetheart Donna and their four extraordinary daughters live in and around Jarrettsville, Maryland. You can contact Phil via LinkedIn. His previous blog was Life After Amazon.