Memorial Days–Past and Present

            As a little girl, it was Decoration Day. Mother took us out to pick what flowers might have ventured out in the spring. There were snowballs, bridle wreath, peonies, and sometimes we would walk in the hills to pick wild flowers. Lilies of the Valley were a favorite, but they were not very suitable for bouquets for the cemetery. It seemed that everyone celebrated the day. There was music and speeches and reminders. We saw all the flags and knew what they meant.

            When I started to play an instrument,  Memorial Day was a day of participation.  Our school band marched from the high school to the cemetery to play for the ceremonies. It only seemed far when it was hot. We complained a little, but we were proud to participate. There were speeches about remembering the price paid by those who laid in the graves under the flags. We were admonished to  remember they paid the price for our freedom.   

            During college days I was finished with the quarter and was home for Memorial Day. Didn’t have to play in the band, but the rest of the activities were much the same as prior years. The graves were decorated, the flags flew proudly on the graves of the veterans. and we were taught to never walk on a grave.   

            By Memorial Day in 1943, I had joined the Navy. You didn’t need much reminding; you were becoming a veteran. We were busy adjusting to military life. No parade for the new recruits except on the parade ground. The next year, 1944, I participated in parades as a proud officer in the United States Navy.

            There was great respect for those of us in uniform. But I remember other Memorial Days when veterans were despised and ridiculed for fighting in an unpopular War. There were patriotic voices who continued to remember, but the voices of the antagonists were loud and nasty. Many young people, and others, were caught between what they were taught at home and the terrible scenario playing out in our culture. My sons lived that battle. The draft lottery loomed above the heads of all the young men. These were difficult Memorial Days.

            And today, 2014, I can listen to local celebrations. I can hear the President or various dignitaries give “laud and honor” to our veterans while the constant reminders of the scandals occupy the news. Those of us who raised our hands and pledged to serve our country find the pledges of those who do the promising are not bound by the same honor. They can make their speeches and walk away to forget what is really happening in the places designated  “to take care of us.” Even the President can make all kinds of pledges, promises, and show consternation about the problems, but he doesn’t face a captain’s mast or a court martial if he doesn’t keep his pledges. Veterans did and those who serve still do. The President can make a quick trip to the “front.” It’s a great photo op to stand in front of troops who are actually fighting and pledge to give them all they need to do battle and all they have earned when they come home. In the meantime, the lists go on, the monopolistic civil service health care system for veterans continues. 

          This Memorial Day there are waiting lists, secret lists, and I can’t even get on a list because I didn’t get into the system before the Iraq War when they instituted a “means” test. Sounds fair, but talk to the veterans who can’t meet the crazy gross income means test. Nobody asked what my gross income was when I joined the service. Nobody told me when I joined the veterans ranks  that I better not works hard, or be too successful if I wanted to collect my veteran health benefits.

            Interesting Memorial Day, this one in 2014. We are still sort of at War. The indignation at what is happening to veterans is greater than I have ever seen. The Secretary of Veterans Affairs is under rapid fire; he has been in all kinds of fights before. But this General had people who pledged to serve their country in his command. Should they forget their pledge, he had the tools of military justice handy. He has no tools; he has civil service. People can mismanage, commit fraud, disregard their duty, deny access to those they are supposed to serve, be lazy, treat their charges with disrespect and callous, and get a bonus.             ;’

            I hope by next Memorial Day that whoever is in charge of watching out for our veterans will have the tools to get rid of those who don’t care, who are protected no matter what they do, and those who just plain forget.   

A Veteran’s Lament–When Is a Veteran Not a Veteran?

           The answer! When you lose or misplace the piece of paper that says you are one and discover that the Veteran’s Administration can’t find you in their files because there was a fire in St. Louis. Or when you decide you want to use the health benefits and the piece of paper that you finally received that says you have served doesn’t  matter. A policy made in Washington says you are not eligible. When you find yourself in the VA scandal quicksand, you don’t feel like a veteran. Who’s going to throw you a line?

         My first visit to a veteran’s health center was a few weeks ago. I checked out the locations in my area and chose the closest center to my home. The pictures looked great. My son and I both said, “Wow!” as we approached the building. There it stands, a beautiful, relatively new building, proudly telling you it is for veterans. The lobby is spacious and pretty impressive. (Just half of it would house a  small medical clinic.) I told my son that I felt proud. Felt like they ready cared. Nothing rundown about this building. I was glad I had decided to try to use my veteran’s health benefit. I had not done so before; I was there because my family had suggested the idea for some time. They knew of other veteran’s who were using the benefit. 

            The paperwork was pretty normal; always lots of it for a first medical appointment which I thought I was making. The man at the front desk was pleasant and helpful. I was ushered into an office to talk with another very nice gentleman–both veterans. It took just a few seconds to discover that I would not be eligible to enter the health system. My son and I sat in a state of astonishment as the young man said I would have to furnish income tax returns and other financial stuff. I felt like I was trying to get a loan, not an appointment to see a doctor. It seems that when the Iraq War started, the powers-that-be thought the influx of new veterans into the health system might be great. They would have to limit access to care for the new veterans from the Iraq War.  Therefore, they added a means test for anyone entering for the first time after that date. That affected me. I was not n the system, could not meet the means test, and would not be eligible. Funny thing! I did not have to meet a means test when I raised my right hand to serve my country.

            Sounds fair, huh? Problem is, it’s gross income. When you live on a farm, or have income from agricultural endeavors, it doesn’t matter what your expenses are. It’s gross income. Or suppose you worked two jobs to help pay expenses; your gross income would be used. Easy fix from the marble halls of Washington.

My son and I were in a state of shock. After moments of seeing us in shock, the gentleman said the only way I could enter the system was through a disability claim. I’ll explore just what that policy is.

            It certainly appears that health benefits for veterans are being rationed in more ways than one. Just trying to get into the system is one. The scandals currently in the news are exposing others. Long wait lists, secret lists not in the computer, means test–how many other ways deny benefits to those who have raised their right hands and pledged it all to their country?

            What a mess. But when you’re in the mess, how do you wash off the stench of the bureaucracy, or where do you go for help? 

            There is no way to solve the mess in the Veteran’s Administration (or any other federal or state agency) as long as civil service creates a monopoly, protects the incompetent or just lazy, prevents transparency, makes it so difficult to fire someone, and allows folks to draw salaries while long investigations go on. It is the same with teachers unions. The Civil Service system must be overhauled if you really want to get to the bottom of this unsavory mess. All the talk in the world about what we owe our veterans won’t help. Just make some folks feel good. The wrong folks!

 

The Nationall Charity League–My Perspective on Senior Present

         Tuesday night I saw a beauty pageant, an event that wasn’t called a beauty pageant, but I am calling it that because I saw eleven beautiful, young women who allowed you to look inside for their beauty. The beauty, poise, and grace we saw on the runway was just an added feature. It’s an event called “Senior Present.” Most of the time was spent in recognizing the service the girls gave to their community with their mothers. They took the time to recognize the hours of service of all girls from grade seven and up. The total numbers were staggering. These girls are learning at a young age to fit volunteering into their busy schedules. They are learning over a period of time to serve and help others. Yes, the runway walks were important and impressive. It was a part of the preparation of the senior girls to show how ready they are to step out and be comfortable in places they want to go. To introduce us to the last of each young lady’s four runway walks, we were prepared  with a video of her life. Memories and highlights. Tears of joy as family and friends remembered. And then the young lady dressed in a white gown and on the arm of her father, walked with confidence toward the stage as if it were her future. Her walk was accompanied with her recorded voice. This was her time to be grateful and gracious, to remember those who journeyed with her, and to look forward to all the places she will go. That was the theme, “Oh, The Places You Can Go.” 
            Yes, Tuesday night was a highlight moment event, an .  event that chronicled the journeys of eleven beautiful young women who are graduating from high school this spring. This audacious group of NCL seniors and their mothers served their community together. NCL is “Mothers and Daughters serving their community.” The night was long as it  focused the spotlight on service awards–hundreds and hundreds of hours of service in shelters, the food pantry, playing bingo with seniors, and so many other places.

            I have been to some pretty interesting events all over the world in my nearly 93 years. I have heard girls and mothers talk about NCL. I have watched my granddaughter for the last four years, and I have heard so often, “I have an NCL meeting, or I am volunteering this weekend, today, or whenever. Often it seemed it was on top of two varsity sports, AP classes, or a voluminous amount of other work. I’m certain many of the Ticktocker hours were served when a beach trip might have been an alternative.

I applaud NCL, their purpose, and their results. It was a wonderful night. When you see these young women and hear of their accomplishments, you want to engage them incineration and hear more about their dreams, their aspirations, and the places they can go.  

The List–Love, Joy, Peace…

 

            Love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  What a list. One trait for every day of the week, with a couple to spare. Imagine what our life would be like if we and those around us lived these every day of the week.

            As I wander back through the mind of time in my life, I think of the many times and varied circumstances that I have been asked: What are the most important things you try to teach your kids? What do you look for in a teacher? What are the most important character traits? What are the characteristics of a good friend? What makes a good mate or what holds marriages together? How have you tried to live? What makes for good relationships in any personal or professional situation?

            We look for lists. Books are written with lists. Awards are filled with the characteristics that have helped the person win the award. We search and search. The schools have instituted Character Counts programs to try to make the school environment better. At the same time, I must say, we have taken so many things out of the curriculum that teach these characteristics; it is quite a paradox. Now we search for substitutes for the great children’s stories in the early readers that taught a moral lesson, a lesson that embodied a worthy character trait.

            I was struck this morning to see the list above again where it has always been and where I first saw it.There it was–same words, but with some ideas about those words. One stopped my reading cold. Gentleness, it said, is the soft covering of strength. I thought about all of the gentle men and gentle women and gentle children that I have encountered along my journey. They are and were all strong. I have seen the error of ways of some who have considered these gentle people weak. And, as I think about it, it is truly the opposite of the bully. Gentleness is the soft covering of strength.

            And the others. they are not what I take when I leave  this earth. They are, I pray, what I leave behind in those that I have had the good fortune to touch over the many years I have been privileged to be here.

            Oh, by the way. The list is easy to find. It comes from Galatians 5: 22-23. Love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. That’s the list. It’s worth posting on our refrigerator–lest we forget.    

God’s Marvelous Creations

            What a beautiful day. The walk to the end of the driveway is always an adventure. It is one I take everyday in my trek around the house. While it is the same driveway, the walk is always different. The blossoms are at a different state in their journey. The birds and their songs are different at different hours; their flight patterns vary with the tasks of the hour. The palm fronds are greeting the sky in different ways as they meet the morning breezes. The sun greets me at a different angle. The shadows cast their magic with the path of the sun. The breezes say hello with a gentle brush across my face.

            The sky is its own study each morning. This morning it is a blue dome with white, fleecy clouds covering it like a white lace covering a blue tablecloth. Yesterday it was a beautiful, clear, blue dome. The silhouette of the palm fronds against the blue is an impressive piece of nature’s artistry. The mountains across the valley stand majestically as they lend their beauty to the horizon.

            The yellow iris proudly present themselves as they add their beauty to the scene; it seems each is proclaiming it is the perfect blossom. The  bronze day lilies vie for attention as they stand among the iris. Nature mixes in the red, pink, and rose colors of the geraniums that trail along the driveway and sometimes climb the palm trees. God’s artistry creates amazing pieces of art in nature.

            As I proceed around the house, I can smell the last vestiges of the perfume of the orange blossoms; they are rapidly pursuing their journey. In a few days there will be little green nubbins, the first sign of the next piece of their destiny. They, too, will soon mirror the mature fruit left on the trees. An orange tree, like so much of nature, is a beauty to behold. And how magical when you can see the evolution day by day. How can one not be grateful?

            I never cease to be amazed as I turn the corner. I leave the fragrance of the orange blossoms; I know in just a few feet the roses will start  to share their varied perfumes. They have to share their beauty with the vastness of the view across the valley. As I look across the valley, the avocado trees in the foreground add the incredible greenness of their foliage to the scene. But in a few more steps, the roses send out their calling cards. A rose is something special. And each of the many that I have sends its individual greeting card. The beauty of the buds, the fullness of the blossom, the attempt of each petal to last as long as possible–all magic. The colors an variety are unbelievable.

            And that’s just some of the plants. Now add the glory of a hawk, the pride pace of a road-runner, the scamper of a ground squirrel. or the tail of a rabbit scurrying away. The sound of the music from the many birds that love their nests in my palm trees, add the symphony to the scene. Even the crows add their base notes to the sound.

                 How could I not be grateful enough to understand that tomorrow my walk will be looking at another artistic rendering of God’s magnificent creations? I hope your grateful walk today was as beautiful as mine.