There I was, nothing to do last night, just clicking crap page after crap page on the internet for no real reason when the thought just popped in my head…
“What did baby Hitler look like…?”
I know. Weird.
I get that most minds probably aren’t as random as mine. I figure most people are normal or something. But still, after a quick search, I found it. Baby Hitler, or more specifically in this case, young Hitler, looked like this:
Weird, huh? I just sat there staring at it. For a looong time. I sat there wondering how he was then – what he was like. What things did he say and do? How did he behave? Would anyone have known something was different or wrong about him? Or would they have thought nothing at all?
I thought of all he did and caused in the world, of 60 million deaths, cities razed, nations destroyed, a people nearly wiped out, and I realized that all that destruction, and pain, and suffering – all of it – came from this little boy – too small at the time of this picture even to push a grown man over, but that would one day destroy much of the world.
I imagined that that day even – that day he sat there to pose for this picture – was just another day leading towards that end; to the time when the thoughts of his mind would become the actions of his orders, and the evils of his heart would become the horrors of his armies.
Suddenly, though, I found myself searching more and more names:
A young Fidel Castro (who I imagine fidgeting constantly for this picture)
Young Saddam Hussein. Kid looks pretty beast…
Young Kim Jong-il. Dude looks like he just wants to play outside all day…
Young Vladimir Lenin. Stoic…
Young Joseph Stalin (great hair)
Not simply as a history nerd, but as a person, these pictures amaze me.
Because in them I see young boys and young men no different than I see every day – in my country, in my neighborhood, in my family. I see kids who you would expect the world of, and wish the world for; boys clearly smart, and able, and capable – who you would imagine could do and achieve so much, and perhaps, even, you’d guess that they did.
If not for their names, of course.
If not for who they are, what they did, and what they became.
But that’s the difficulty of growing up, or raising another – that what you hope and dream and would do anything for becomes something else; something you’d never guess or imagine or believe; that the boy you once bounced on your knee as he laughed and smiled and lighted your world, becomes the monster the world fears; that the little kid reading in the corner alone, quietly turns that loneliness and rejection into something much, much different.
These pictures are a reminder…
…that what we do matters; that the depression we keep, or the lesser selves we accept, means something, matters something, leads to something; that while we may never become a despot, or a dictator, or the murderer of millions – we may just become that which is most evil to ourselves and most opposite to our dreams; something that is, in every way, a betrayal of the vision someone once had for ourselves, and the hope they once had for our lives.
We may just become that which we once would have been ashamed to become.
Or maybe we already are.
Because our actions today and our behaviors today are another step towards the selves of our future – another day towards that end we can’t see now, nor might believe now. But they also make up the reality of who we are right now. And so long as we are less than we are capable, we keep open the possibility that tomorrow we will be even less than we are today.
What, then, will we be like so long from now? And what of other people? What of those we know now, who are struggling now – our friend, our neighbor, the kid we ignore or the kid we bully? What will become of them, if not for our help and concern and love? What will we one day think when we see their childhood pictures?
Will we see the young faces of children who one day became great – admirable, honorable, and good; people to look up to and who made good on the promise of their lives?
Or will we regret the opportunities missed; that we might have led them, or ourselves, to a better place if only we were given another chance; that things might have been different if only someone knew what they saw, and cared what they knew?
Because lost in the science that explains our problems as the result of whatever genes, or the excuses that explain our sad lives as the product of whatever misfortune, is the reality that every life can go any way; that nothing is predetermined. And in the decisions we make everyday lies the seeds of our later selves – that we’re forgiving rather than hating, loving rather than indifferent, strong through heart and mind and will, rather than through fear, and manipulation, and violence.
I guess I saw in those pictures the very reason I write these articles. I saw kids who could have been good, who might have been great, who should have been anything other than what they became.
I saw kids who very well may have changed the world, but through so much, and because of so much, became instead those who would destroy it.
I saw little kids whose deaths would one day be celebrated, when its only ever our hope that our lives are remembered for something better.
As it turns out, though, I can’t go back in time. My weekend, then, was a waste, and all it left me was a mangled toaster with a clock glued to it. I’ll sell it on ebay anyway…
But I’m glad, at least, that I found these pictures.
I’m glad I was reminded that amongst us now walk both the greatness of tomorrow, as well as the evil of tomorrow, and that within each of us is the potential to become either – should we let ourselves be controlled by our lesser feelings, or instead control ourselves through our greater hopes.
And maybe one day we become something to be proud of as a result – someone loved and cared for – who helped others be better than they were, and helped themselves be better than they dreamed.
Maybe we use the skill and talent and ability in us to do good.
Maybe we become someone whose death is met by sadness, rather than relief.
There are those, of course. We just need more of them. We just need more boys and girls like this…
A young Winston Churchill.
A young Franklin Roosevelt.
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