Friday, November 11, 2011

Happy Veterans Day! From the Daughter of a Hero

I am the daughter of a Vietnam Dust Off pilot; I am the daughter of a hero.  Happy Veterans Day to all of our service people. My Dad will be the first to try to tell me that he's not the real hero. If you ask any of the Dust Off crew about the heroic acts of flying rescue missions in Vietnam they will all quickly recall the stories of another pilot, another medic- they will speak with such pride of their service brothers and about what Dust Off really means but tell you so little about themselves. There's no ego in their service- selfless then, and still now, they will tell you they were just flying the mission.

In a jungle a little over 40 years ago my Dad was one of the men who risked his life time and again to save others. Dust Off, the medivac helicopter unit, was who was called when all else failed- Dust Off was who never turned down a mission- Dust Off was who never hesitated to fly into the most dangerous of situations, with the biggest target on their backs to get our men home safely. As young men, some still in their teens, their bravery and courage changed them forever. They would fly anywhere, anytime to answer the call. They would be shot up, shot down, and then run to the nearest helicopter to go back out there and finish the mission. They were brave, courageous, sometimes seemingly crazy in their acts of heroic service, and they were never the same.

I wasn't alive then, I didn't see this, but I know it... I know it from the man that my Dad is, I know it from the honor of having met some of my Dust Off uncles, and I know it from their stories. As the daughter of a Dust Off pilot I know the war never goes away for the people who lived it, it changes but never leaves them.  I also know how deeply our country let them down. Upon their arrival home our soldiers were met with harsh treatment, some spit on and sworn at, and all were asked to put away the memories, move on with life, and were not celebrated or embraced for their heroic service. Our country let these men down and did in some cases perhaps as much damage as the war itself.

I am hopeful we have learned- that my generation understands now that soldiers deserve to be honored even when we do not agree with the wars. If and when we do not agree with the political decisions being made by our government then we have a duty as citizens protected by our service men and women, we have an obligation, to stand up to the government to bring our soldiers home but we have an equally important obligation and duty to take care of and HONOR the brave individuals willing to take up the call of defending the United States.

We also must take care of those who have served our country- they deserve the best healthcare, education, jobs, and treatment we have to give. They deserve to be honored and cared for long after the war is over. The deserve hugs, handshakes, thanks, and gratitude everyday and so do the families who wait by the TV, Internet, or phone for a loved one who is in harms way, who keep the home fires burning, take care of the children, pets, house so that our service men and women can do their jobs for our country and especially for the families whose loved ones have paid the ultimate price of war.  We can't pay them enough, we can't thank them enough, but we can make sure that we vote for legislation that protects and cares for them- we can fight for our veterans as they continue to fight for us.

This is also the first Veterans Day that we can openly and proudly celebrate our Gay and Lesbian service people. Many of these individuals had to hide who they were from all around them for fear of being discriminated against, for fear of not being allowed to serve their country.  With the repeal (FINALLY) of Don't Ask Don't Tell, our heroes are freer to be who they are and live their lives in pride and honor.  We must not forget all of the gay and lesbian service men and women who were dis-honorably discharged simple for who they loved- they served our country and our country does not serve them- they are without the benefits they earned and deserve.

I am hopeful. We have come such a long way from the rallies where heroes were made into villains, from the policies that didn't allow service people to be who they are, and from a culture where PTSD and mental illness were once so deeply stigmatized... but we can and must continue to strive for better for our veterans.  Thank you to my Dad, my Dust Off family, and all of our service people and families. Happy Veterans Day!

Monday, January 17, 2011

The power of love, compassion, and forgiveness ... Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction ... The chain reaction of evil -- hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars -- must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation." -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr  Strength To Love, 1963.
I have often found the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. inspiring. I think his life reminds us that equality is hard fought and that discrimination, injustice, and hate must be met head on, with strength, deep conviction, profound courage, and great love.

As I googled my obligatory Martin Luther King Jr. quote to post on my Facebook status this morning, I read through dozens of his words and found one of my long time favorites to share with my friends and family- the excerpt you see above.  I have often heard and read these words but each time I am somehow still deeply struck by the truth of this statement and the power behind it. Perhaps it is in knowing that Dr. King did not just speak these words, he lived them. And that he is not alone- the power to drive out darkness comes from light and the the power to rid the world of hatred comes from love. Our greatest teachers on the planet seems to share this common thread, this common message.

I think that is what also makes Dr. King's words so profound. This deep truth touches on what could be the most challenging personal journey we are asked to take- that of forgiveness when we have been truly wronged and deeply hurt. How do we let go of the anger and the pain? Where do we find the willingness to  meet hatred with love not just because we are trying to show restraint but because we truly forgive? Scholars and spiritual guides more learned than I perhaps are better suited to such questions- but my answer- the only one I have found to work in my own life has been compassion.  Compassion creates the smallest crack letting in the slightest ray of light into the darkest places of my own anger and hatred, though always slow and rarely graceful. 

Forgiveness never means justification for what has been done. Letting go of anger or hatred doesn't mean  that what happened was right or acceptable- it only means choosing to release the pain and the hurt. In the case of Dr. King, he saw a higher purpose, a greater calling, and recognized the power of letting go of anger for his own well-being but even more importantly for the well-being of our country and our world. Dr. King recognized that justifiable hatred in response to hatred would only create destruction, pain, and more hatred- so he understood the need for compassion, forgiveness, non-violence, and love.

The truth is, I am in awe of forgiveness at every level- the most mundane to the deepest wrongs, but especially the kind of forgiveness and love Dr. King demonstrated with his words and actions. That kind of love and compassion is inspiring and humbling because it is it the stuff of truly great courage and truly great strength. It is part of why we admire and look up to Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Gandhi, Jesus, Buddha, Mother Teresa... of the millions of individuals who have stood up to violence, injustice, bigotry, and hatred with the power of love.  If the hatred has hurt you- and many of us have been hurt by the hatred of bigotry, insensitivity, cowardice, and fear -  the way to meet hatred with love is through compassion.

Hatred does multiple hatred into a descending spiral of destruction, but I believe very strongly that the exact opposite is also true.  LOVE MULTIPLES LOVE INTO AN ASCENDING SPIRAL OF CONSTRUCTION!

So here's the heart of this post- (sorry sometimes it take me awhile to get there I know!) it seems we as humans are always afraid we are at the precipice of days, and if you look back in history there were always tough times, always dark ages, always difficult days-  it is easy to get caught up in the fear and see only the devastation and destruction around us. Dr. King could have so easily only seen the horror of discrimination, bigotry, and racism suffered by those around him. He could have focused on the overwhelming hatred that was present, focused on the despair, and the seemingly impossible task of the Civil Rights Movement, but he did not. Instead he focused on the HOPE, he focused so famously on his DREAM, he focused on meeting hatred with LOVE!  

In a world with such serious problem, pains, and struggles we must face those challenges but not from  a place of fear, not focusing panicked about how the world is coming undone around us, or how 2012 is on its way and the Maya calendar is ending, but rather working towards our own DREAM of how it can be- our own vision for how we know it will be when we choose to use our love and passion, our drive and determination for what matters most to each of us, for forces of good. Love always expands and makes our world better. Our challenge is to meet hatred with love, find compassion, fight apathy, and seek a small way to engage in our communities each day to try to make them better. 

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that." -MLK  Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.  Thank you to Dr. King for inspiring us all to multiply love and compassion in our world, to stand up courageously and powerfully to injustice, and for reminding us that we do have the power to change the world.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Surprising Nature of Vulnerability and Community

Recently a dear family friend taught me a lesson about community that I cannot stop thinking about. He said that if you do not utilize your community when you need them, then they will not feel like you depend upon them and eventually the community will disappear. As someone who has spent my moments of crisis attempting to summon a brave face, find a smile, and pretend I'm okay, these words completely changed my perception. 

So down the rabbit hole of reflection I've been sent again...

I have always thought that I was being considerate of others and that I was somehow being a good friend by not being needy, burdensome, or asking for help.  It never occurred to me that the exact opposite was actually true. I had not realized that each time I put on a brave face, each time I said I was fine, each time I didn't pick up the phone and reach out- that in a small way I was sending a message to my friends and family that I didn't need them, didn't trust them, or that they weren't close enough for me to reach out. This was not the message I would ever want to send the people I love and respect.

Then I began to think of all the times I've known friends who are in a rough place- all the times I've tried to reach out and been met with an "I'm okay"; "It's fine"; "I'll be okay" brave face... from friends I love and know.  How many times have friends of mine or people I love stubbornly been considerate and tried not to burden others?

So here is the surprise-  I know my friends and family love me and if I need them they will be there, but I rarely reach out and ask for help. And I have a hunch I am not alone.  But rather than this being somehow noble, brave, or compassionate for those we love- it is actually destructive to our community. Not picking up the phone and calling a friend when I am feeling bummed out, not asking a friend to meet for coffee when I am sad about something, not reaching out - all of this unties the binds that are meant to give us unity and to form community.  

The surprise to me is that it is our vulnerability that connects us. In this journey to live more authentically as the person I am, I once again discover that we build trust, friendship, community and happiness in our lives by taking the risk of sharing our lives, our stories, ourselves.