On Friday afternoon, my 16-year old daughter and her friend giggled as they insisted I look at a picture from earlier that day.
In the photo, my daughter, who wears her glasses more than she wears her contacts, had placed several of her friends’ glasses over her own.
She was laughing with delight at the image of all those glasses perched on her nose. But just looking at the picture made my head hurt because trying to see the world through multiple lenses can be painful.
It’s so painful, in fact, that many of us avoid doing it.
But we should.
I was reminded of that this week when I begrudgingly attended a continuing education program that I needed to keep my social work license. The licensure requirements recently changed to include at least two hours about mental health issues for veterans, which was the topic of the workshop.
As soon as I entered the classroom, I realized that not all of us were there solely because we wanted to keep our licenses.
When I sat down, the older gentleman sitting directly across from me explained that, even though he wasn’t a social worker, he was interested in the topic.
He was a veteran he said as he gestured to a woman sitting near us who was wearing a hijab.
“I was taught to kill people like that,” he said to me. “Now I’m being told to accept them.”
I’m not even sure what hackles are, but I immediately felt mine go up. His words were in direct opposition to everything I’ve been raised to believe:
- America was founded on the principle of religious freedom.
- Christians aren’t supposed to judge people who are different than we are.
- Good people don’t want to harm others based on their beliefs.
With only a few words, this man who had spent most of his life in service to my country, made me question both his ethics and the agenda of our country’s military.
Only hours later, after listening to a presentation about military culture, hearing from family members of veterans, and getting bombarded with statistics, did I realize the man was crying.
A colleague was trying to comfort him as tears rolled down his cheeks. He was explaining how difficult adjusting to civilian life has been for him.
That’s when I realized the entire purpose of the continuing education requirement: I needed to understand that lens through which Veterans like him might view the world. He isn’t a bad man. He’s actually a good man who is living in a culture with conflicting message and ideals.
That was only one of the many reminders about different lenses that I’ve been getting recently.
For example, I had to change the lens through which I saw a childhood friend whom I’d envied for having everything I didn’t: a sense of style; easy popularity; a beautiful bedroom; horses and even a boat. She recently revealed that her stepfather had molested her for years in the house where I’d spent so many hours. In fact, she had envied me for my ability to express exactly what I was thinking and feeling while she kept everything bottled up.
I’ve had to change the lens through which I view some of the frustrating low-income clients who walk into our office after continually make poor choices. New medical findings show how poverty and childhood stress literally change brain structure.
I’ve had to change the lens through which I perceive people who allude to Fox News or share clips of Sarah Huckabee Sanders citing a recycled email. I have to remind myself to try to see the world through their tinted lens colored by dogma, lack of information, priorities, fear and their beliefs about their own circumstances.
Unlike my daughter, I’m not going to subject myself to a headache by putting on several pairs of real glasses that will make the world blurry. But I am going to try a little harder to look through the lenses that other people choose to share with me.
And in return, I hope they take time to look through mine as well.
My Uncle Martin turned 102 this year. He was my grandmother’s youngest sibling, and he is the last one still living.
He was 94 before my mother (his niece) and I learned that he had been among the American troops to storm the beaches of Normandy in June 1944.
We were at my grandmother’s memorial service when Uncle Martin mentioned his role in history as casually as is he were telling us what he’d had for breakfast.
I don’t remember why he mentioned it, but I do remember he wasn’t expecting gratitude or accolades and he certainly downplayed his role. “I wasn’t among the first to arrive,” he said when pressed.
And that’s about all he said about his role in a defining moment in history. He saw himself as a bit player, and I saw him not only as a hero, but as my own personal link with history. To me, he was a rock star.
He also put the importance of our veterans in context.
I may not like war, but I like oppression even less. And without our veterans, individuals who put their lives on the line for people they will never even know, my view of oppression would be from the inside out rather than the outside in.
Which is why, on Veterans Day, I have to give a shout out to my Uncle Martin and to all the other veterans who protect my right to write.
They always make me smile.
Day 128: Veterans Day 127: Doppelgangers Day 126: Letting Life Unfold as It Should Day 125: The Constantly Changing Sky Day 124: When History Repeats Itself Day 123: The Love Scene in The Sound of Music Day 122: Helen Keller Day 121: The Welcome Back Kotter Theme Song Day 120: Sheldon Cooper Day 119: Having Permission to Make Mistakes Day 118: A Diverse Group of Friends Day 117: Family Traditions Day 116: The Haunting Season Day 115; Life Experience Day 114: Changes Day 113: The Wooly Bear Caterpillar Day 112: The National Anthem Day 111: Parents Who Care Day 110: Good Friends Day 109: My Many Colored Days by Dr. Seuss Day 108: A.A. Milne QuotesDay 107: Spending Time Wisely Day 106: Parades Day 105: The Peanuts Gang Dancing Day 104: Sharing a Secret Language Day 103: The Electric Company Day 102: Doing the Right Thing Day 101: When Siblings Agree Day 100: Being Optimistic Day 99: Trying Something New Day 98: The Sound of Children on a Playground Day97: Good Advice Day 96: Red and white peppermint candy Day 95: The Soundtrack from the Movie Shrek Day 94: Accepting Change Day 93: True Love Day 92: Camera Phones Day 91: Bicycle Brakes Day 90: HeroesDay 89: The Cricket in Times Square Day 88: The Grand Canyon Day 87: Unanswered Prayers Day 86: Apples Fresh from the Orchard Day 85: Being Human Day 84: Captain Underpants Day 83: The Diary of Anne Frank Day 82: In Cold Blood Day 81: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry Day 80: The Outsiders Day 79: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Day 78: The First Amendment Day77: People Who Touch Our Lives Day 76: The Rewards of Parenting Day 75: Improvements Day 74: Family Traditions Day 73: Learning From Our Mistakes Day 72: Live Music Day 71: Sleeping In Day 70: Grover Day 69: A Good Hair Day Day 68: A Sense of Community Day 67: Kindness Day 66: Living in a Place You Love Day 65: Gifts from the Heart Day 64: The Arrival of Fall Day 63: To Kill a Mockingbird Day 62: Green LightsDay 61: My Canine Friends Day 60: Differences Day 59: A New Box of Crayons Day 58: Bookworms Day 57: Being Oblivious Day 56: Three-day Weekends Day 55: A Cat Purring Day 54: Being a Unique Individual Day 53: Children’s Artwork Day 52: Lefties Day 51: The Neighborhood Deer Day 50: Campfires Day 49: Childhood Crushes Day 48: The Words “Miss You” Day 47: Birthday Stories Day 46: Nature’s Hold on Us Day 45: Play-Doh Day 44: First Day of School Pictures Day 43: Calvin and Hobbes Day 42: Appreciative Readers Day 41: Marilyn Monroe’s Best Quote Day 40: Being Silly Day 39: Being Happy Exactly Where You Are Day 38: Proud Grandparents Day 37: Chocolate Chip Cookies Day 36: Challenging Experiences that Make Great Stories Day 35: You Can’t Always Get What You Want Day 34: Accepting the Fog Day 33: I See the Moon Day 32: The Stonehenge Scene from This is Spinal Tap Day 31: Perspective Day 30: Unlikely Friendships Day 29: Good Samaritans Day 28: Am I a Man or Am I a Muppet? Day 27: Shadows Day 26: Bike Riding on Country Roads Day 25: When Harry Met Sally Day 24: Hibiscus Day 23: The Ice Cream Truck Day 22: The Wonderful World of Disney Day 21: Puppy love Day 20 Personal Theme Songs Day 19: Summer Clouds Day 18: Bartholomew Cubbin’s VictoryDay 17: A Royal Birth Day 16: Creative KidsDay 15: The Scent of Honeysuckle Day 14: Clip of Kevin Kline Exploring His MasculinityDay 13: Random Text Messages from My Daughter Day 12: Round Bales of HayDay 11: Water Fountains for Dogs Day 10: The Rainier Beer Motorcycle Commercial Day 9: Four-Leaf Clovers Day 8: Great Teachers We Still RememberDay 7: Finding the missing sock Day 6: Children’s books that teach life-long lessonsDay 5: The Perfect Photo at the Perfect Moment Day 4: Jumping in Puddles Day 3: The Ride Downhill after the Struggle Uphill Day 2: Old PhotographsDay 1: The Martians on Sesame Street
On Monday, October 31, 2011, I left work earlier than usual because it was Halloween and I had important issues to deal with. At least, they seemed important at the time. I needed to make sure my daughter was dressed in her costume, that the jack-o-lanterns were lit and appropriately placed and that we had a plan to ensure the dog behaved himself during trick-or-treat activities.
On that same day, Marine Lance Corporal Brian Felber, was severely wounded in Afghanistan when he stepped on an IED and lost both his legs.
My concerns on Halloween seem unimportant in comparison. But, like most Americans, I was oblivious to the events that changed his and his family’s life forever. I was absorbed in the trivial details of my own life.
But the next day, I was sitting in my office when Jan Callen’s cell phone rang. Like everyone else in the office, I knew the call was from his wife Susie since she has her own ring tone. What we didn’t know was that she was calling to tell Jan about Brian, the husband of their 22 year-old niece.
As a retired Army Colonel, Jan reacted in true military fashion. He adjusted his plans accordingly and took the most appropriate course of action: instead of going to Nashville for the week, he and Susie would go to the Walter Reed in Bethesda to do what they could for Brian and the rest of his family.
In the meantime, I did what I thought was appropriate. I took Jan’s suggestion and liked a Facebook page supporting Brian: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Support-Combat-Wounded-Marine-Brian-Felber/281745445190900.
I admit, at first I did this because it was just what I thought was expected of me in such a situation. I’d never met Brian and didn’t really relate his situation to my own life.
But then I looked at the Facebook page and the photos.
He appears to be a guy I would genuinely like. In one photo, he has his arm around his young wife. In another, he has his arm around a dog. And in yet another, he’s playing with a band.
Dogs and music? Brian seems like my kind of guy.
That Facebook page made him more than just another news story or statistic. He’s become real to me. He is a person with a family and a life outside the military. Yet his service in the military will shape the rest of his life: a life that’s changed forever.
For most of us, our lives are going on as they always do. We pay attention to those things we think directly affect us with very little consideration to those that don’t.
As Jan said when reflecting about the time he spent with Brian and his family this past weekend, “When we were at the hospital, we saw all these young guys with lost limbs and young wives by their side. We saw an entire floor of a parking garage for handicapped parking. And then we went home, and the world goes on like nothing happened.”
His words remind me of lyrics from the Cat Stevens song “Sitting.” They are lyrics I’ve always loved. “Life is like a maze of doors, and they all open from the side you’re on. Just keep on pushing hard boy, try as you may you’re going to wind up where you started from. ”
The meaning of those lyrics can be debated, but to me, they’ve always meant that to move forward, we not only have to think beyond our own circumstances, but we also need to approach life from a perspective other than our own. We need to turn around and walk through the doors from the other direction.
When we do this, we just might actually see and appreciate all the people we never met who have been helping hold doors open for us: people who are contributing to our lives. As someone who didn’t grow up with close family or friends in the military, I’ve too often failed to recognize how members of the military help hold my doors open.
I hope Brian knows that his circumstances have served as a reminder to me. A couple of years ago, my son, Shepherd, also reminded me.
My husband and I were in a parent-teacher conference when Shepherd’s teacher told us she was very impressed with his thoughtful writing. We were surprised and asked what she meant. Apparently, he’d been charged with writing an essay in answer to the question “If you could change places with anyone for one day, who would it be?”
My son had answered a soldier. His reasoning was that, while he never wanted to be a soldier, as an American, he needed to understand what they are going through.
Wise words from a sixth grader and words to think about on this Veteran’s Day.
I hope we all take time think about the side of the door that our active troops and our veterans are facing. Members of our military do what they are asked, and they respond to some horrendous situations. And, most importantly, they do their duty out of love for our country.
On this Veterans Day, we should all consider what we can do to help hold THEIR doors open.