Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A Red, White, and Blue Salute to Our Veterans

"With These Hands -- Wonder" 18x24 mixed media on canvas
I remember vividly where I was on 9/11, do you? I stood with my fellow co-workers in front of a large-screen TV and wondered what was happening to our country? We watched in horror and disbelief as the replay showed a plane plowing into the first Twin Tower. In shock, we witnessed live another plane crashing into the second building. This couldn’t be happening.

At the time, my two sons were in New York. One lived in lower Manhattan with his wife; they both worked on Broadway. The other son worked between the Twin Towers and CitiGroup. Where were they now? Cell phone use had been cut off due to the emergency. My anxiety was in overdrive. I prayed.

"Hey, Coconut, Mon" 18x24 mixed media on canvas
Eventually, one son managed a communication from NY to California. The person in CA called his wife who lived in CT and I learned that he was okay. He was scheduled to meet that day on the 8th floor of the second tower, but the meeting had been moved to another location. We later learned there were many small but mighty miracles going on all over the city that limited the usual number of people who were supposed to be in the Towers that day.

Thankful that my boys and their families were safe, I rejoiced with other people who had been spared, and offered up prayers for those who hadn’t. Americans joined hands and hearts, praising God and showing their patriotic colors, but not all. Even in those dark hours, there were some who ridiculed “those flag wavers,” and blamed American Imperialism for the event. It was our fault. We deserved it for allowing such desperation and poverty in the world in the first place.

Unfortunately, those naysayers are still with us. The hate-America-crowd never seems to get tired of bashing the success and hard work of others or demeaning American values held dear by many.

(This is what I'll be doing on the 4th of July!)
My own father was a welder who took pride in repairing the ships that were damaged during World War II. He worked on the Arizona, the Missouri, and many of the ships prior to and after Pearl Harbor. As a child, we lived in government housing in Bremerton, Washington. Sailors, soldiers, and patriotic workers were part of our everyday lives. We took pride in their service and in their accomplishments. 

My Danish grandfather and his Swedish wife traveled all the way to California during World War I to work for the war effort. Papa worked in a factory as a welder, and Mama sewed clothing and uniforms for the soldiers and their families. They kept America’s factories running while the men were away fighting a war to preserve our freedoms. God forbid that Hitler should come here! People everywhere worked together for the good of America: the last bastion of freedom on the earth!

Papa and Mama came to this country via Ellis Island. They were proud, hopeful, and legal. They pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and carved out a life for their posterity. When you put down my flag and put down my country, you’re trampling on everything my ancestors fought and died for. These freedom loving people would give you the shirt off their backs, and they often did because it was the right and honorable thing to do. They earned their success through their own blood sweat and tears.

(Two beautiful red pears I plan to paint)
Several years ago, I was between jobs and feeling down and out. I had a medical background, so I managed to get an interview with the VA hospital where I lived. I was unprepared for the feelings that overwhelmed me when I walked through those double front doors. 

People in wheelchairs, old people, people on crutches, many with limbs missing coming and going down the hallway and gathering in the foyer. Flags and photos were everywhere. A feeling of reverence, and yes, despair, permeated every smell, every corner, every water-filled eye. I didn’t get the job, but I left a changed person.

I was so overcome with gratitude that I wanted to shake every hand, kneel at every knee, and hold every trembling, frightened person I passed and say: “Thank you;” but it seemed so inadequate! I was living my life with the hope of opportunity; whole, well, and free because someone here in this hospital and elsewhere in America gave up an opportunity, a limb, a loved one, a life of security for me.

God bless the men and women everywhere who serve our country! Thank God for the men and women in past generations who sacrificed their lives so that you and I can hope, and breathe, and choose our dreams. Freedom lives because somebody died—for you!