I try to write a Thank You letter to the Veterans in my life, every year on this day…also on Memorial Day.
I also have to admit when I started writing these yearly notes, I did so from a place of “universal guilt”… a cousin to that instant feeling I have when I spot a traffic cop following me, even when I know I didn’t do anything wrong.
“something happening here…”
But I realized a few years back that though many of my generations’ brothers and sisters treated each other poorly…well, horrifically…during the conflict over the Vietnam War and its Veterans, I personally never threw pig’s blood at a returning soldier.
Like many of my peers at the time, I didn’t really understand who exactly to be mad at- the military vets, or those who drafted them.
“what it is ain’t exactly clear”
So I focused my energy on Peace instead.
I was that girl with a wreath of flowers in my hair, who shoved daisy’s into barrels of the guns of local law enforcement, clad in riot gear. Young men about my same age, I have to add, who were just doing their own confusing jobs.
“there’s a man with a gun over there”
In the 1990’s I tried to open my mind to a new generation of returning veterans, so badly wanting them to have a different experience than those brave men and women, drafted or not, returning from Vietnam.
And then 9/11 happened and did a permanent number on my heart and soul. It was the birth for me of a new level of awareness. People the world over were responding to “attack” event with such dark black or white hot absolutism.
That all coincided with my father’s death so his lessons to me as a kid naturally came rushing back with a warm, loving vengeance. I considered, for the first time really, what he had been trying to say.
There is always more than one way to look at something.
“nobody’s right and everybody’s wrong”
So now, if I say thank you to a stranger in a military uniform, or when I send out my gratitude, in a note or blog post, I feel no guilt. I still don’t like or understand war, but I have room in my head and heart now for many, many more ways to fight for peace.
And I am grateful, and deeply respectful for those who choose the military (and law enforcement) as their vehicle to accomplish that.
This year, my sweet James wrote the letter below to his family. He and his siblings have had a wonderful, daily tradition, thanks to their 96 year old mother’s deathbed request. She insisted that they all stay in touch, even though they have lived across the country from each other. The emails to each other, all these years later, is one of my favorite all- time uses of the internet.
James says I can share today’s note with you too. (I have altered it only to remove other people’s personal stuff.)
Today, we remember those of us who have served and died in service to freedom of expression, religion and political choice. I must admit that I am distressed by the present political situation in this country and the direction we are taking. Having said that, I honor all men and women who have participated in protecting us and giving us the right to chose our lives in a turbulent world where such freedom is becoming less and less available. I have heard from the men I served with in Nam and am reminded of the quality of men I was lucky enough to have shared that experience with.
I had a fun trip to the islands. He picked me up at the ferry landing. We did a couple of errands in town, then joined a group of men for
The Stand Up Men Against Domestic Violence
on the courthouse lawn to remind citizens that violence against domestic partners is not acceptable as a solution to personal problems. These men have been doing this every Friday for the past four years. They organized after a couple of domestic violence deaths on the island reminded them how prevalent this problem is in our society. Two deaths were recorded there in the past twelve months so it continues to be an important issue for those who suffer at the hands of their partners.
These guys are truly Veterans of their own local “war” against domestic violence. And they deserve to be honored, celebrated!!
Afterward, we went home where we a nice lunch and we relaxed the rest of the afternoon. About five pm, started a fire in the fire pit and we sat around with an adult beverage until men began to show up for the poker game. By seven, there were eighteen men there. We adjourned to the poker tables and played poker ’til around ten thirty, then back to the fire pit for another round of chat before everyone trickled away for home. We cleaned up the poker mess before retiring sometime between twelve thirty and one am.
(I included the description of their gathering after because it demonstrates for me that there are many really wonderful men in the world, a message not so clear in the media these days. Their “Poker Game” has been a monthly tradition in this smaller community for around 20 years. They rotate the home where it takes place. They have what they call a “Party Bag” (different from a Gift Bag) where each person throws in some of the money they win (they play with quarters) and the money is used for things like replacing the worn out felt on their vintage poker table, or, get this, a nice night on the town with the wives! These guys also golf together, and once a year, they take the Poker Game to a beautiful mountain town many miles away, for a retreat weekend of golf and poker.
I love the men in this small town. I have witnessed several times over the years, how one guy can put out a call for help (or not put it out) and the rest just show up, barn-raising style. It’s just the way they live.
James ends his letter with:
We plan on accepting Applebee’s free dinner for Veteran’s this afternoon. My worker, John is a Navy vet so he’ll get a free meal too.
Am I lucky or what??
Again, thank you to all who served, men and women, who made the choice, regardless of their reason. It was a precious, brave and probably unbeknownst to you at the time, a healing decision to make for all of us.