Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Veterans' Day

It is easy to take liberty for granted, when you have never had it taken from you. M. Grundler

Two weeks ago, I had written some notes regarding my Veterans Day blog. I had planned to discuss our family's experiences during deployments, the way the military community pulls together and how proud I am to be the wife of a veteran. In light of the Fort Hood shootings, however, I find that my heart and mind are walking down a far different path. Although we knew none of the shooting victims personally, nor were we ever stationed at Fort Hood, the Army is a small town with a global impact. There are always people we've known, men and women my husband has served with and far less than 6 degrees of separation from any Army family.

Like the rest of the world, we were shocked and horrified by the news of this past week. The most insidious aspect, in my own heart, was that the shooter was an Army doctor...a psychiatrist. Not only does this situation create a dreadful sense of mistrust throughout the medical system, but it has to be terrifying to live and work on post, and no longer feel safe. That this rampage would occur in a 'secure' location only makes the ramifications more complex and disconcerting.

Ironically, I have never felt safer than when I'd arrive on post. Before the first Gulf War, there was the simple checking of military (and dependent) identification. After the war began, our cars were searched, to include large mirrors on wheels to be rolled underneath, checking for bombs. Although this did present an inconvenience for those us who chose to live off post, it also gave us a sense of security. I was able to go to the American school in which I worked, feeling not only confident for my own sake, but also for that of my students. My classroom, during this time,
experienced a great deal of upheaval. Fathers left our post in Germany to go to the Gulf. Mothers often left children in the care of neighbors to return stateside to be with their own families. My 2nd grade class felt a lot of uncertainty during this time. I found that I needed to wear many hats...none of which were in my job description. This one year, we spent more time creative writing, and less time memorizing. We studied the geography of all the places the soldiers were going, knowing that was more relevant than the social studies chapter on "people in my neighborhood". We cried. We found ways to laugh. We read wonderful books, and composed ones of our own. We created care packages and calculated distances to various locations. We learned about many modes of travel that the military uses. We painted. We made paper mache globes. We learned the names of constellations and understood that the students Mommies and Daddies could see the same stars. We sang. We cooked. We were there for each other. But, at no time did we, ourselves in our own little classroom, feel at risk or in harm's way. Our classroom was our sanctuary. It was where we felt safe, away from the fighting.

President Obama has called the killings "incomprehensible". He went on to say, ""Their life's work is our security and the freedom that we too often take for granted. Every evening that the sun sets on a tranquil town; every dawn that a flag is unfurled; every moment that an American enjoys life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness -- that is their legacy". What President Obama must also realize now is that even our Army posts, here on American soil, have lost the small town safety they once had. In the military, your current post becomes your home. Your neighbors are in the same life situation that you are...which is a far cry from civilian life. Everyone has been the new person, and everyone lends a hand to help out. Army life can be brutally hard, including separations from those we love. But, it can also give you a sense of family, thousands of miles from your home town. The soldiers who lost their lives did so, not by someone who sneaked into this country illegally, but one of their own.It's a case of a neighbor killing his neighbors in small town USA. The tragedy is further reaching than just those of us in the military. As one of my dear friends from our Army days told me "It's not enough that my husband is in Afghanistan right now...in danger and ready to give his life for his country. Now, I have to look over my shoulder at our coworkers." What started out as a peaceful day in Texas, shattered not only a military community but the sense of freedom that our soldiers risk their lives to prevent.

This Veterans Day, I hope you will take a moment, in between parades and shopping the sales, to thank a veteran. Regardless of your political beliefs, the fact is that there are exceptional men and women who put their lives on the line to protect our nation and to facilitate the military life. They might be Army Rangers or Navy Seals. They might be doctors and nurses who provide safe health care for servicemen and their families. They might be college professors, scientists or supply specialists. They might be husbands or wives, fathers or mothers. It does not take one political party, or another, to have faith in humanity, to have appreciation for the courageous actions of others or to hope for peace and better days ahead.

If you disagree with me, that's fine. But, thank a soldier for protecting your rights to your own opinion.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Old Friends in New Times

"A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart, and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words."

One of the truly joyful parts of my life for the past few months has been a rekindling of friendships with people I knew years ago. Thanks to Facebook, and to the Internet in general, I've been blessed to reconnect with men and women who knew me more than twenty years ago. It's been wonderful to catch up, to find out what's going on in people's lives and to figure out where we all fit in to one another's lives again now, in our 40's. It's been an adventure to discover new attributes the school athlete might have uncovered in himself and to see how incredibly brilliant the prettiest girl in class has become. I feel intensely humbled by old friends allowing me into their lives now. Learning to have adult relationships with the people with whom we've grown up can either be powerfully healing, exceptionally energizing, or even, sadly, mildly disappointing...if we find out that someone really doesn't choose to know us again.

One of the ways I'm reveling in my new/old friendships are the memories that my friends have of me....not the married mother of two, not the yoga teacher or even the college graduate. I'm discovering whole events I'd forgotten, thanks to my friends. Our brains only hold so much information. Obviously, for all of us, some memories get lost. In the business of every day life, in the severe stresses that can trigger mild memory loss and in the normal course of our own moving on, we tend to leave little pieces of ourselves behind along the way. A concert here, a picnic there, an impromptu trip to Boston can all be shuffled in the deck of our thoughts and end up on the bottom. I have had friends share beautiful memories they have about my late father, and the difference he made to them. I have had friends remind me of a brave, or a foolish, thing I once attempted. I have had friends remind me of my past, not as judgment, but as a common ground starting point in conversation. Because of this, special events that I'd dismissed as commonplace have been brought to my attention, and I am able to cherish those experiences all over again. I've discovered the beauty in seeing who I was, both the positive and the negative, and how those parts of me helped me to grow up into the woman I am now.

Of course, there are always those episodes in our lives we'd just as soon forget; harsh words spoken in anger, misunderstandings, poor behavior on our own parts for which we've never taken accountability and the low points in our character. There are aspects of our adolescence we'd all like to bury under 14 feet of hard soil, with a big heavy boulder on top, guarded by a 500 pound gorilla, so that these negative moments, of which we're ashamed, will never come to light. Yet, when we have the opportunity to say "I'm sorry" for a wrong done, even if the other party doesn't want to hear the apology, it can be as if the grave we've dug ourselves was never there. Being able to acknowledge our short comings, especially from middle school and high school, can take us a great deal further on the path of adulthood than denial or shame ever could. Holding onto those low points can create invisible restraints holding us back. Just like Jacob Marley, in "A Christmas Carol", we can create our wretched, heavy emotional chains, keeping us from moving forward. The simple words "I'm sorry' might stand like pink and purple elephant in the room, when you meet up with old friends again. But, getting it out of the way can be the healthiest possible way to begin friendships anew...and on a healthy platform. Often, these events loom larger in our own minds than they do in the memories of others. Regardless of the situation, saying your peace and offering a heart felt apology can bring your old friend and you closer together.

On the other hand, there are always going to be people who hold grudges. No matter what we say, or how honest we are, they will use our behavior at 15 or 18 or 25 or 30 as an immovable obstacle in their own lives. Instead of moving on, these people would rather remain bitter. For some, there may be a perfectly good reason why not to renew a friendship. However, I believe that the majority of these "unforgivers" find pleasure in control. And, if they can control our own sense of well being by withholding kindness, then there will be little we can do. This may also let us 'off the hook' from feeling badly any further. I believe, in these rare cases, it's best to move on, be thankful for the friendships we do have, and relinquish all further guilt over the matter.

Friends who are truly our 'amigos' are able to do this. We can laugh and say "Good heavens! We thought we were so mature!" when in fact we were anything but and made complete fools of ourselves together. Old friends are also wonderful because we don't have to explain our life story to them; they knew about us, about the good and the bad, and they love us anyway. They are able to lift us up when we need a shoulder to lean on, and remind us that they were present during our most embarrassing moments, if we get cocky. Old friends are our link to who we truly are; past, present and future. They are our touchstones, our Greek chorus voices of reason and our own devil's advocates. They can love us deeply, and still hold us up to a higher level of accountability. Friendships like this are profound and we shouldn't allow them to disappear from our lives because of time and distance.

Den Ming-Dao wrote, "Those truly linked don't need correspondence. When they meet again after many years apart, Their friendship is as true as ever." While I agree with that, in theory, I do believe that correspondence can be a delightful tool. It can challenge us, it can inspire us, and it can rekindle the flames of a friendship where there were once only the barest embers. And yet, once reconnected, it's a heady feeling to be able to pick up a conversation with a friend that began three quarters of a decade before. It's as if a dream has come true when you can share memories, and remind your friend how precious they were to you...and how precious they still are. Finding hidden treasure in old friendships, when reconnecting after many years, has left me passionately grateful that my errors were enough to allow forgiveness for my many faults. Forgiving a friend who made mistakes is one thing. But to be forgiven is the most faithful of gifts one human being can do for another.

My advice for this week is to seek out one old friend. Discover what she's doing today. Find out if he still loves sports. Learn who your friend is today, while still providing her with a bank of memories for tomorrow. You may discover that you laugh and cry...often both at once. But, I doubt that you will regret the experience.You may even find that your friend shares memories you have long forgotten that will provide a time travel machine to help reconnect with yourself again.

Thankfully, '80's attire is no longer required.