"It's probably the reason I'm here today. It probably saved my life," mused the man as he reached for a well-deserved toast to his ninetieth birthday. Here he was enjoying a bright, birthday afternoon in the comfort of his own backyard garden, musing over a decision he'd made roughly seventy years earlier, which turned out to be of huge consequence. Sitting among four generations of family and friends, I once again marveled at the seeming randomness of life. Some people make it. Some people don't. Sometimes, it seems as if life is just one giant crap shoot.
Then again, it may just seem as if life is a giant crap shoot. In reality, the closer you look, the more it appears significant events have less to do with luck than genuine, strategic thought.
"There were forms, official registration forms, you were supposed to fill out so that the government knew who you were and where you lived," man continued. "But something about them didn't seem right. So I just never filled mine out. And from that point on, I made sure to never sign my name."
The forms themselves were fairly benign, not that much different from what you and I fill out every day on the internet. Your name, where you live and various personal data that's supposedly guarded to protect your privacy. Of course, there were other personal details, but nobody paid much attention to them. And because the forms were distributed by official-looking people posing with official-looking authority, most people filled them out completely and promptly, complete with their signatures on the bottom line.
"I knew it wasn't right. Something just felt wrong," repeated the man.
It wasn't too long after that, returning from his job in another town, that the twenty-something man discovered there was no more family to come home to. Everyone was gone. Family. Friends. Even strangers he knew by face but not by name. All of them vanished, never to be heard from again.
All of them had one thing in common: they'd filled out their forms and signed on the bottom line.
Realizing the gravity of his brush with fate, the man grabbed what he could and left his home town, his country and whatever history he'd grown up with. By way of Swiss refugee camps and liberated France, he eventually made his way to America. He never looked back, pursuing a life, career and family the result of that one, single determination:
"Never sign your name."
It makes you think about what you do with your own personal information today. Who has it? Who owns it? What will they do with it? How smart is it to fill out that form and sign your name?
When the man tells me his story, I realize how quick thinking not only saved his life, but by even greater odds, is responsible for my own.
The man is, after all, my father.