Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Why Do You Need Two Wreaths?

“Why Do You Need Two Wreaths?”
Copyright 2013 by Lori-Ann Willey

I usually have a “Veteran Story” to relay after spending half or nearly all day at a Veteran’s hospital with Paul.  Today was no different, though I thought we were going to leave without a story that touched my heart in one way or another.  Today was Paul’s annual physical, and that means once a year, a full day of waiting in one waiting room after another is not only the general rule, but expected.  Today was a “light” day with only eight appointments scheduled.  

After Paul’s last appointment with Judi, the RN of the SCI (Spinal Cord Injury) clinic, we gave hugs and once again thanked her for always being there for us, and not just us, but for the love and attention she gives all her disabled Veteran patients and families.  Judi is an “Unsung Hero” of the SCI clinic, and a remarkable woman to say the least.  A woman who dedicates herself to her patients come Hell or high water.  Once, she had an opportunity to take an amazing job elsewhere, but she did not take the job, because as she told us, ‘I love all these guys.  I know them better than anyone does!  I couldn’t leave.’  

As we exited the elevator on the ground level, I found myself disappointed that I had not yet heard a Veteran’s story.  Of all the waiting rooms we sat in, not one Veteran opened up.  I do not know if it was because it was early in the morning, or just a somber day of reflection.  I will never know, but I do know that I felt that I was the one missing out.   

The exit was just up ahead, when we came to an intersection in the hallway.  Our hallway was to merge into a larger hallway.  We stopped and waited for a few people to stroll on by, and as the last man walked past, I chuckled out to him, “Watch out.  He might take you out!”  I was referring to Paul and his wheelchair, but speaking to the man walking.  He turned and chuckled as he murmured something I could not hear or understand.

We turned the corner and continued down the hallway behind the man, when he stopped and spoke.  He was going to let us go past him.  We smiled and the second he spoke, we stopped to listen to his words.  He spoke with a smile.  He was an older stout man I’d guess to be in his lower 70’s, and like some people when they strike up a conversation, he kind of started mid thought so it took me a couple of sentences to piece together his topic.  This is what he told us:

He once stood in an area where someone was handing out holiday wreaths.  He did not indicate whether they were free, sold, or given after a donation for a cause.  As he stood, he saw a man in a wheelchair.  He noticed that people were stepping in front of him as if he did not exist, yet the Veteran never said a word and never pushed his way through, instead, he sat and patiently waited for his opportunity to approach the wreath giver.  A young Marine in uniform worked his way to the front of the line and asked for two wreaths.  The wreath giver asked, “Why do you need two wreaths?”  The Marine looked up at him, held his pointer finger up in front of him, and said, “Watch.  You’ll see.”  To this, the Marine turned around, walked a few steps back toward the man in the wheelchair, and handed him a wreath.

The older storyteller was now leaning his back against the wall beside us.  He shook his head as he told us the story, and said, “Some people just don’t understand what it is like.  They look at you and then they look beyond.  I always let them go first.  They have earned that rite.”   

Part of me understood the meaning of his story, while another part of me could not help but ponder another thought.  The man spoke in the past tense, and given this man’s age, I wondered if this story took place back in the 1960’s when there was a lot of protests about the Vietnam War, where the Veteran’s who served to protect us were not welcomed back on American soil by many simply because they did not support the war.  Maybe that was the key point the gentle man did not speak of, but did he have to?  Respect is respect, and courtesy is courtesy. 

Remember to thank a Veteran.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Simple Acts of Kindness

Simple Acts of Kindness
Copyright 2013, by Lori-Ann Willey

Recently, our son had his wallet stolen from his own apartment.  Hollywood California is not all that it is cracked up to be, but maybe”cracked” is still the correct word to use.  That is a sad and probably stereotypical thing to say, but last spring, Paul and I spent a week there, and it was not a pleasant experience.  Well, it was nice to visit with our son, but the area itself, no thank you.  I walked around with pepper spray around my neck like a necklace, and Paul kept a box cutter in his wheelchair side pocket.  Our son carries a knife.  During a walk to the grocery store maybe 1 ½ blocks away was a mugging.  As we walked by, there were several police cars and a woman sitting down with a cloth to her head, blood running down her face.  Josh was held at knifepoint once.  The homeless man demanded his phone while a police officer watched!  When Josh confronted the officer, the officer simply asked, “What do you want me to do about it?”  A few days later, the man called and said he “found” Josh’s phone and wanted him to meet him at a specific address.  We told him not to go.  He did not.  Those are mild examples of Hollywood, and by far, just a couple of examples that Josh has dealt with.

Here in Maine, a woman wrote a blog entry a few months ago about the loss of her wedding ring while hiking a trail around Mount Katahdin.  She lost it in a stream.  A father and son, upon hearing the story, took it upon themselves to go looking for the lost ring(s), found it, and happily returned it to the woman.  That is an example of Maine.

Today, while at the Millinocket Post Office (closest town to our location) where we pick up our camp mail, there was a young hiker in front of me.  I waited patiently behind him while the clerk, Julie tended to the tall, bearded young man.  He told her he lost his wallet, and wanted to know how to get money sent to him there.  She explained the process.  He graciously thanked her in a very gentle voice.  He stepped aside, excusing himself for being in front of me, and he continued outside into the drizzle.

Julie mentioned that he was a hiker and we briefly discussed his predicament, both in a motherly way.  I told her that our Josh just had his wallet stolen and it is an awful feeling of vulnerability.  This young hiker is now without an ID, and probably a driver’s license, and money, too.  Julie and I bid each other a good day. 

As I exited the post office, this young man’s situation was weighing heavy on my mind.  The past few days rang loudly in my heart.  It has been a total nightmare for us to wire money to our Josh.  He was supposed to sign a lease for an apartment that very same day his wallet was stolen.  Because there is another Joshua Willey that somehow got on Josh’s credit report, his soon-to-be property owner needed to see a photo I.D. before he would let the “good” Josh into his apartment.  However, now because he now had no photo I.D., he was in a major dilemma!  Josh went directly to the DMV and spent $35 for another I.D., but it is only a temporary one, and the real one would not be in for two weeks!  I guess the temporary I.D.’s do not have photos.  Anyways, it has been a total nightmare.

As I stepped outside the Post Office, I saw the young man on the phone.  I proceeded to the truck to drop off the mail, my heart heavy for this man and his situation.  No money probably meant no food, either.  My heart sank further.  Due to the rains, before I left camp, I put on a light jacket to help keep myself dry.  When I reached into the pockets, I pulled out $68.00 I did not know I had.  It has been since last spring that I had worn it so it was a nice little surprise.  At the truck, I again reached into my pocket and pulled out a $20.  It was not much, but it would feed the man for the rest of the day and until money came through to the Post Office the following day. 

I walked back toward the man and as I drew near, he was still on the phone.  I shyly put my hands up to form a “T” as in basketball’s Time Out hand language.  He rather looked taken back.  I meekly made an “I’m sorry” expression.  I had his attention.  He put the phone face to his chest and was ready to listen.  I held up the money and told him that I could not help but hear his conversation inside.  Before I even finished my sentence, he drew his head back a little bit and shook his head no.  I cocked my head to the side and, said, “Please.  This is something I have to do.  Our son is across country and just had his wallet stolen.  I need to do this.”  He gave a gentle sigh, and slight smile.  “Please”, I begged, “Our son is in California.  I want to do this.”  He gave a bigger smile and I could see both relief and shock on his face, “Thank you” he said with a gentle, appreciative voice.  Together we smiled.

I turned to head back toward the truck, when I heard him speak something inaudible.  It turned slightly to see if he was talking to me or if he was back on the phone.  He took a step in my direction, so I turned fully.  He reached his arms out and gave me the warmest, most gentle hug imaginable.  I rubbed his side as we released our embrace, and said, “Good Luck”.  Again, he thanked me, and then asked for the zip code for the town of Millinocket.  He repeated it into the phone and thanked me again. 
A little bit of kindness goes a long ways in time of need, especially, and it is during those times that you will always be grateful for those who took two seconds out of their lives to help you.  Take our son, for example.  His friend Jesyka is a true friend.  Due to no photo I.D. to get the wired money from the bank, we trusted his friend and changed the name on the transfer to hers instead of Josh’s name.  When it was time to pick up the money, Jesyka was sick in bed with strep throat.  Josh walked to her place, helped her clean up a bit, wrote a letter of recommendation for her, and knowing Josh, made her something to eat.  Then, together they would walk to the bank.  Come to find out the money was .01 over the allotted amount and could not be withdrawn.  Huh?  Rite-Aid only allowed $999.99 and not of $1000.00?  Really?  Apparently, because Jesyka was so sick, they went to the nearest place they could to get the money instead of walking the distance to Western Union.  I cannot blame them, and poor Jesyka being so sick.  My hat goes off to her for being such a great friend to Josh.

It has been a frustrating few days for us, as well as for Josh, so I can imagine how frustrating and lost this hiker must feel, and I presume he was on the phone talking with a parent.  I had great empathy for his situation, which now probably became his parent’s situation, too, and I could relate to that especially.  I do not know the name of the young man, but I hope his money comes through so he can continue on his journey, for like our own son, young and full of energy, they have embarked on an incredible journey, and being so far away from home.

I would like to add that those people you may see on the streets asking for money for food, will work for food, etc.  I am VERY skeptical of them and their honesty, but sometimes....maybe they ARE honest and they ARE victims of others.  Maybe they do not have family that can wire them money like Josh and this hiker.  One just never knows.  With that said, I know a man who knows a man that becomes a "bum" on the weekends because he can make up to a couple thousand dollars in a weekend by doing so.  This is a man who makes well over 100,000.00 a year.  You just NEVER know who you are handing your money to, always be careful.  A buck or two can feed a truely starving person down on their luck.  :-)  Will you ever know you helped a bum? Probably not, but you may be helping someone truly in need.  That is the thought I choose.  Truly, this man I helped today was a case of being down on his luck, just as our son Josh and what he experienced.

Find us on Facebook at Willey's Dam Camp.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

-6 Degrees below Zero with Embedded Shrapnel: My conversation with a Veteran

-6 Degrees below Zero with Embedded Shrapnel:  My conversation with a Veteran
Copyright 2013 by Lori-Ann Willey

I am not much of a “social bug” type person, and quite honestly, I would rather avoid people 99% of the time, but that is just my ways and me.  However, when a Veteran starts to tell of a personal experience, I could sit and listen to THEM talk all day long.  The following stems from such a conversation just this morning. 

 A Veteran sat down beside me and started up a conversation.  The TV in this room was on the news channel and the topic was of politics.  I cringed inside myself when he spoke to me of the topic.  I never discuss two topics in particular.  One is religion, and the other is politics.  I did not want to sound rude, but I did acknowledge his commentary as I appreciated him having his opinions.  After a couple of sentences, I think he realized that topic was not going to get very far with me, so he changed it up a bit. 

The next topic was about how the -6 degree temperature outside penetrates into his body parts that still have shrapnel lodged from the Vietnam War.  This got my attention fully.  There are some Veteran’s who openly talk of their experiences, and when they start talking to a total stranger about those experiences, and I happen to be that stranger, the rest of the world ceases to exist to me.  My eyes and ears focused completely on the words of this unfamiliar person sitting next to me.

I turned my head and looked through his somewhat thick glasses and into his dark brown eyes.  I saw kindness, and I saw gentleness within him…an inner peace if you will.  He wanted to talk, and I wanted to listen.  He continued by telling me how some people make snide comments about his disability, and his benefits from military.  How some consider it an easy life to receive compensation simply because he served his country.  This, despite becoming disabled during wartime?  How it is “cheating” to receive money without having to “work” for it.  This raised my eyebrows in disbelief, but I knew the man was telling the truth…even Paul and I have experienced such comments over the years.  It is sad that people have such a mentality to think that Veteran’s are thought of in such a low light at times.  Not to mention how very ignorant some are about soldiers and their experiences, though even if they did not experience war itself, living a military lifestyle has many challenges of its own.  It is FAR from an easy lifestyle, and by no means leisurely. 

This gentle speaking man took in a deep breath and smiled.  I am sure my eyes were begging to hear more, but I would never ask, though I always hope the story continues.  We were in a small waiting room.  Paul’s ticket number was 93, and this man came in a ticket or two later, so as numbers were being called, both the man and I knew our chat would be a short one, and in times like this, I could have sat there the entire day listening to this man talk of his experiences.  Unfortunately, our conversation had to be brief...three or four minutes at best.  He continued to talk and this is what I learned from him.

The man started his military career as “an entry level soldier” (as he called it) in the Vietnam War, and worked his way up to become an officer by the time he retired as a nurse some 22 years later.  He spoke of the casualties around him, and how each of them was a friend.  It was not hard to hear the solemn-ness in his voice.  He agreed that was something one cannot forget, ever.  I couldn’t help but think of how helpless he must have felt watching his friends dying around him during battle…all the horrors he must have seen…the emotions he must have felt.  To me, it is unimaginable.  I wondered how one could seemingly carry on a “normal” life after experiencing such things?  Yet, this man seems to be doing rather well, but his low and gentle voice told me there was a lot of pain lingering within him still.  I glanced at his eyes once more.  They were deep and full of stories.  I wanted to hear them all.  It was easy to tell that each of his words clung to a vision that without experiencing it for myself I could never understand.  He continued to speak with carefully chosen words, and somehow a sense of grace was attached to each syllable.  His verbal tone seemed almost God-like.  Like an inner peace that he was forced to find…the alternative probably not a good one.

By the time Paul finished up with the clerk, this kind man knew that I was going to leave his side, but I heard a little more as I waited for him to finish speaking.  After the Vietnam War, the man had spent something like 11 years in the Navy before deciding that he wanted to be a nurse.  Is there any wonder why he chose that profession?  To me, there is no doubt.  I sat there for a few seconds waiting patiently for him to finish his sentence.  When he stopped talking, I scooted up in my chair and turned to face him.  We both smiled.  There was peacefulness in his eyes.  I gave him a wink, and thanked him for the chat.  We bid each other a nice day, and as I stepped away, he called after me, “Happy NEW Year”.  To this, I stopped dead in my tracks and turned to face him.  “Happy New Year to you, too.”

It IS a new year!  Right then, it put the past 1 ½ years of our chaotic life into perspective.  It is the time to make resolutions, changes, to better oneself, to make promises to oneself, to have a new outlook for the year ahead, etc.  This man, though for a few short moments taught me an invaluable lesson in life, and put everything into perspective FOR me.

I wished I had asked the man for his name so I can say, “Thank You”.  This man holds a lot of wisdom, but wisdom comes from experiencing life’s ups and downs and learning valuable lessons along the way.  I am forever telling my kids, “Live and Learn”, “Upward and Onward”, and take each failure and turn them into positives, as we all need to fail in order to learn how to succeed.  We all need the bad in life to appreciate the good.  If this man can find a peace within himself, after all he experienced in the Vietnam War, I can find it within me, and you can find it within you.  Life is experience and perspective based.  If we all remember that, we will be just fine.

Though  many of you who have been following my blogs now for a few years, you already know that I’m a sap, and when it comes to my experiences in speaking with our Veteran’s, I am even more of a sap.  This blog talks of my experience today.  Please go to this link to read about another Veteran experience that I wrote about last summer