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Life Since 9/11/01

September 11, 2013

Just as my parents remember exactly where they were when JFK was shot and killed, I have very pristine memories of where I was and what I was doing on the morning of 9/11/01.  I was working as a school psychologist in a rural county outside Nashville and we were having a meeting with our special education director when the secretary interrupted with an important phone call.  It our supervisor’s husband, announcing to us a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center.  Before the conversation ended, another plane had hit the second Tower.

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Lives changed forever…or did they?  This is the question I often ask myself.  How has my life changed in the past 12 years?  Obviously, this national tragedy became my passion at some point – but not immediately and unfortunately, not quickly enough.  I didn’t start helping Soldiers and their loved one until the Fall of 2006 – FIVE YEARS after 9/11.  That’s embarrassing to me.  I have lived in a town populated by over 30,000 active duty Soldiers – that doesn’t even touch the National Guard and Reservists who also live here…who’ve also been deployed.  And I did NOTHING for five years!

What I know, what I’ve researched, what I’ve lived in my office with these amazing Soldiers, Veterans, and their loved ones is that their lives changed dramatically.  Their basic truths of living were deemed false…a family of four became a temporary family of three and sadly, some are forever a family of three because the truth of war is that not every hero returns home.  What I know is that many of the heroes who did return home, came back with their souls missing in action…the video of their experiences has no pause button – it replays 24 hours a day, seven days a week and at times becomes more real rather than fading.  What I know is that children have been raised without their daddy’s or mommy’s.  They live in a wartorn blended family – where, as “nuclear families” they experience step-family development dynamics every other year.  What I know is that the bravery, the weariness, the emotional trauma, the physical wounds, the relational heartbreak is real and it is relived every day by people who grew up believing in the same American dream you and I had…many of their dreams were exploded by an IED or an insurgent attack…

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So, how has my life changed?  In reality, not much at all.  During World War II, 11% of the population was directly involved in the War – today, it’s less than 1%.  During World War II, all of the factories in the US changed their mission, their production to support war time efforts – so, much so, that the car manufacturers went from producing new cars to planes, boats, tanks – all for the support of our troops.  No new cars were produced from February 1942 until the end of 1944 – almost three years without any new vehicles made in the United States.  Ummm…how many new cars have you had in the 12 years since 9/11? Sugar was rationed, Victory Gardens were shared, tin cans were recycled – even pantyhose were rationed.  Life was changed for all of Americans during WWII…this is the longest war in the history of the United States – how has your life changed?

 

Papaw Townsend, WWII Veteran

September 9, 2013

Yesterday was National Grandparents Day.  By the time I was 15, my four grandparents had passed away.  I never met my maternal grandfather and I was 18 months old when my paternal grandfather died.  He was 47.  I know very little about either of my grandfathers.  My parents have neglected to share their parents’ history and I’m ashamed to say that I’ve neglected to ask.  National Grandparents Day reminded me of what I missed out on – the generational legacies I may never fully know.

Since discovering my passion in caring for and giving back to our Soldiers and Veterans, I wish I could thank my Papaw Townsend for his service in the Army during World War II.

What I know about Papaw Townsend is that he was a WWII Veteran and when he returned from the War, his parents had moved and not left him a forwarding address.  He then lived with his aunt and uncle for a brief time until he married my grandmother, whom he was courting before he left to fight in Europe.

Mamaw & Papaw TownsendHe and my grandmother lived in a small town, Hardinsburg, Kentucky, where my dad was born in their home.  While my dad was still a toddler, the family moved to Henderson, Kentucky and my grandfather began his career as an electrician.    Sadly, this is the extent of what I know about Wendell Townsend.

Because I have a vivid imagination and have heard the pain and confusion in young Soldiers stories, there are many things I have come to believe about Papaw Townsend.  I believe he must have had much sorrow in his heart from the war.   I believe he had enormous feelings of abandonment when he wearily returned to an empty home.  I believe my grandmother breathed life into him, but didn’t understand his pain.

I believe Papaw Townsend did the best he could with what he had left in his soul.  I believe the war wounded his soul and he didn’t know there was a chance of healing it.  I believe he had experiences of happiness and laughter in his life with my grandmother, dad, aunt and the three grandchildren he met.

I believe he did not die a bitter man but rather a man who had not had the opportunity to share.  He was a man who didn’t know it would be ok if he shared his story.  So, his true story left with him…and his story could have helped me to understand my own story.  His story could have helped me to understand stories of the Soldiers of today’s war…just as their stories will help heal future generations.

It’s a risky business though – sharing.  This is a lot harder than bringing your favorite toy to kindergarten class…this kind of sharing often feels like picking the scabs off wounds of the soul…things we wish we’d never done and the decisions made when there was really no right answer.

So, Papaw, thank you for your sacrifices.  Thank you for fighting for your children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren’s futures.  Thank you for ultimately giving me the chance to pay it forward by listening and validating the stories of so many young Soldiers, who are just like you…and don’t worry, Papaw, I’m not going to miss out on any more stories…

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Over the weekend, while driving down one of the busiest and largest streets in Clarksville, TN, I counted over half a dozen different military license plates.  I’d driven less than a mile.  There was the Disabled Veteran plate; the Bronze Star-Meritorius; the Flying Cross; Gold Star Family plate; Combat Wounded/Purple Heart; Vietnam Veteran plate; and the Air Medal license plate.

It hit me hard.

I live amongst heroes.  I’m actually surrounded by them…and I’m very proud of this fact.  Clarksville, TN is a city in middle Tennessee which has been noted as having the second largest population of Veterans in the entire United States.  One can easily state that when you come to Clarksville, you will surely brush shoulders with an American Hero…they are literally everywhere.

When I took notice of each license plate, my mind wondered…how many deployments had taken them away from their loved ones?  Are they receiving all the benefits they are entitled to?  Do they sleep ok at night?  Did that little girl know her Daddy before he gave his life for our freedoms?  Does that Vietnam Veteran see any difference in the way our current Soldiers are being welcomed home?  Does anyone else recognize all the stories behind these license plates?  Is anyone listening?  Has anyone asked?  Has anyone slowed down, even paused, and extended gratitude?  Or been deliberate in their eye contact and shared a smile?

I am guilty as charged.  I rush around town, in and out of the grocery store, the post office, the dry cleaners…often avoiding eye contact so that I can complete the marathon of chores on my To Do list without interruption.  But, wait…these lives, the lives of our Service Members and their loved ones, were interrupted…they had to hit the pause button on life to ensure that I could zip around from spot to spot without giving any thought to my safety.

There are so many stories behind the license plates in my town…there are people who want to listen to your story…there are people who want to thank you…there are people who want to welcome you back…we are here and will be waiting, whenever you are ready, we are here.  Thank you, American Heroes – thank you.

 

Mr-1. CraneI had lunch with a crane today.  An intimate lunch.  I didn’t have it planned; it wasn’t a goal I had previously set…it was an opportunity seized.  I thought he was plastic yard art at first glance – you know, to keep all the real cranes away.  So, I felt even safer knowing that this facade of a crane would keep all the other pesky ones at bay.  So, I sat down, grateful for the beautiful, quiet day of rest, feeling blessed for the food I was about to enjoy and feeling & hearing God’s love and goodness in the ocean breeze and sounds of gentle waves.

Hmmm – that’s interesting, how did I not see the plastic one to my left?  Weird that they would have 2 in a row…what a sec…it’s real…curious.  Even on the desolate Dauphin Island off the coast of Mobile, we never had a crane get this close.  Ok, if you want to come up on the table, I’ll let you…Closer?  Maybe I can spare another inch – but, NO…now we’re talking about food and I get pretty serious about my food (childhood issues, of course!).  But, I’ll share a table with you, as long as you mind your manners and respect my space.  Ended up being quite a pleasant experience, watching the lanky Crane tempt my boundaries and then respond appropriately to me saying NO, when I felt like he was invading my plan for a quiet lunch – like a well-mannered student waiting patiently for the teacher’s next directive.

I’m on a bit of a vacation following a few jam-packed days of intensive, motivating training with John C. Maxwell to become certified as one of his John Maxwell Team’s coaches.  I seized the opportunity when it was presented to me in March 2013.  Did I really have time in schedule to add one more thing?  Not really.  Hadn’t I already had my husband, my sister, my father, my dearest friends express concern that I was over-doing it with the calendar I keep in my private practice?  Yes.  Did I agree with them that I had stretched myself too thinly?  Of course – after 12 hour days of back to back clients several days in a row – intently listening, being present and empathizing with each of them – yep, tired is just the tip of that iceburg of exhaustion.

So, what made me think I needed one more commitment added?  Did I really believe I had the BIG WW gold belt hanging in my closet, you know, the one from the 70’s super goddess, Wonder Woman?  Why, yes.  There’s one in my closet, as there’s one in your closet.  I’ve just decided to finally put it on.  I’ve just decided to clean out that closet and put unnecessary, misfitting items in storage.  And I mean JUST NOW – TODAY!

What does that look like in my life?  Saying No – just as I said no to the Crane.  Building in time for my own personal development and self-care – and making that time sacred – non-negotiable.  It means bowing out of projects that don’t steal my heart or take my breath away.  It means saying yes to quality time with my husband, my family and my precious friends.  It means figuring out a way to teach several people at once the skills of self growth what I teach to one client at a time.  I’m making plans on how to effectively and efficiently start polishing that gold W belt before I actually get it out of my closet.  I know it’s going to take me a little while to actually find the belt – there’s a lot of junk, unorganized junk in my closet.  And there will be times in the next month that I’ll feel overwhelmed by the mis-sorted collection of things…but, I know it’s in there and I can already see myself wearing it….be prepared, you may need sunglasses the next time you see me!

And, the Crane?  He was a good reminder for me…a reminder that something can start out heading in one direction, but could end up disasterous if you don’t monitor it.  Kind of like the plant kudzu we have in the south, it may look appealing at first, but the instant you aren’t intential with its pruning, you have been swallowed by the strong, green vine.  He reminded me that I have an amazing opportunity before me – an opportunity I didn’t fully recognize in March 2013 when I signed on with the John Maxwell Team.  The Crane reminded me that I can enjoy amazing experiences and still have boundaries in place – that there is a healthy balance…it was a good lesson to remind me people will try to push through the boundary if you let them and you have then given up your dream…had I not placed boundaries for the Crane, he might be the one who had the last bite of those delicious fish tacos rather than me, enjoying what I claimed.

Seize your opportunity!  Set your boundaries and kindly tell Mr. Crane to back away from the feast you are about to enjoy!