Sunday, September 30, 2012

Serving An Entire Country

My brother-in-law recently celebrated  his retirement from the U.S. Navy after 26 years of military service and we went to honor this milestone with him.  There were bigwigs and decorated folk all around.  There were commendations and certificates and special gifts (see picture) and rituals.  It was a very nice ceremony, pretty much what I expected except more personal.  What I didn't expect was how emotional I would become during the ceremony.  I figured my biggest job that day was going to be handing my sister packs of tissues.  In fact, it was me who half way through, had to lean over two seats and beg a pack off of my niece.  The sleeve of my sweater set was becoming unseemly.

Part of the emotionality came when my brother-in-law and his superior both spoke about the life and career that was coming to a close.  I was reminded of the skinny kid from Indiana who went to basic training and traveled across the globe to Japan and Spain.  I was reminded of the homes in California, Virginia, Georgia, Texas, Washington and Illinois and the months and years spent on a ship while his children grew up at home with their mom, my sister.  I was reminded of orders that made sense to me like his unit being called to help after Hurricane Andrew and ones that didn't, like going to Iraq.  It was intensely moving for me to hear him summarize his life and what all the choices had meant and what all the people in his life meant.

I've never really understood the military life that my brother-in-law chose.  I was terrified when their oldest son enlisted during wartime and was called to serve in Afghanistan. I assume that most of our leaders aren't really thinking of the tremendous sacrifice of our military personnel and  I get angry when money and power seem to matter more than people. I've had the painful moments where my "loving the soldier but not the war" stance left me feeling uncomfortable with my family. The bottom line though, is that I am proud of my brother-in-law.  I'm really glad that I was able to share in the special ceremony.  I think he was happy to have us be a part of the day as well, especially my son playing "Taps" for the closing.

The following morning the two of us, from two very different walks of life - military and human services, had the most amazing conversation.  We talked politics for about an hour.  Usually that is taboo and we did it during an election year!  Both of us are pretty calm people and we were clearly trying to use language that wasn't too intense or accusatory but there was something else.  We discussed health care, education, taxes, the role of government and the future of the U.S.  We talked about budget cuts, gun laws and which Presidents had shown genuine concern for the military (his opinion was based on how they had treated the military personnel stationed at the White House and Camp David).  We didn't reference which candidates we would be voting for (although he can see my bumper sticker for Obama) and we didn't lash out or put anyone down.  We just talked about what was important to us.

It was a great dialogue because we both had the other's respect.  No matter our differences, he knew that we had traveled to come and honor his 26 years of service. I knew that those 26 years were spent serving an entire country, not just the citizens who think like him or vote like him or pray like him.  I don't understand a lot of things about the military but I understand that serving an entire country is what good leaders do.  Our elected leaders need to practice more of that type of service.  

Monday, September 17, 2012

If This Is Wrong, I Don't Want to be Right

Christ Church Lutheran (Minneapolis), designed...
Christ Church Lutheran (Minneapolis), designed by Eliel Saarinen. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I had the most fabulous weekend!  We had a family road trip to Minneapolis and attended the wedding of my husband's college roommate.  The rehearsal dinner was in the couple's backyard with amazing food, prepared by friends and fellow farmer's market organizers.  There were funny and touching toasts from the families and friends who had traveled from out of town to celebrate the wedding.  A slide show played, following the couple from their own separate childhoods to their present shared life. Nieces and nephews and the children of dear friends climbed trees, juggled, chased the chickens in the backyard coop, and got piggy back rides from the teenagers.

It was a full blown celebration of a life filled with genuine caring and passion.  This couple is loved because they have loved so deeply.  They have been loyal and tenacious in difficult times.  They have encouraged and organized to bring out the best in the people in their lives.  One is an environmental lawyer and the other a social worker.  They've joined causes and campaigns. They've looked up and out, instead of allowing others to define what is possible.  The twinkling lights in the trees and in the little votives on the tables, the laughter, and hugs, and even the apple cake with rum sauce (a recipe from great grandma) were all evidence of their life well lived.  We were all anxious for the next day and the real celebration of their marriage. 

The service at the Lutheran church where they attend was filled with meaning and intention like no other.  Their individual pastors from childhood were present (!) and shared prayers with the congregation during the service.  My husband and one of the nieces played music.  Other friends from school sang Ode to Joy in German in honor of the role that German Language Village played in their college years.  Impossibly cute and squirmy 5 and 7 year old nephews were the ring bearers and the church was awash in sunflowers from the farmer's market.  Their minister's sermon during the service spoke to all of the important pieces of their life and it was clear that she knew them well.  Her sermon was no generic wedding template.

The church was packed with about 300 guests and a reception followed in the courtyard.  Individual food trucks catered the outdoor party.  Our friends wanted to support the farmers and food trucks that also regularly served the farmer's market.  Locally grown food from small farms were well represented the whole weekend.  At every turn, their friends were supporting the wedding, serving as waiters, dish washers, bartenders, and janitors.  At 10pm the happy couple had left the church and friends and family lingered with the church staff to prepare the space for worship the next day.  We were exhausted and overjoyed.  More than anything I just felt so damn lucky.  I left Minneapolis thinking of all the ways I wanted to infuse my own marriage and family with some of their intentionality, commitment and passion.

As you might guess, this long description is not without a punchline.  During this most idyllic weekend, there was one single cloud that hung over the otherwise picture perfect postcard.  Their wedding will not be legally recognized in Minnesota.  It was two grooms who stood at the altar and as a result all of their religious faith, family loyalty, civic engagement, and love for one another is currently deemed "radical", "not the same as" or for some, quite unbelievably to me, "perverse".  My friend had an editorial in the Star Tribune the morning of his wedding day that spoke to the issues and served as the inspiration for my thoughts here.

For anyone who knows our friends, they know that their marriage as a same sex couple will not ruin the state of marriage for heterosexuals.  The only danger that their marriage poses is to raise the bar higher for the state of matrimony. 

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Monday, September 10, 2012

Time is Flying

When I first started writing here, I began by reflecting on this early memory of my son helping his dad.  I talked about how we have to create ways to engage our kids and let them act big and important.  It was such a super cute moment, little boy with his little brush, and one super ugly, blank canvass to attack.  Whatever strokes he laid down on that garage door were going to help and the only thing that could really go wrong could be fixed with soap and water.  I miss those days.

Lately, I realize that I am more and more hesitant to encourage that former two year old's independence.  I'm spending more time thinking about all the messes that might happen if my sons "pick up the brush".  Bullying, random violence, troubled or stressed out friends, and just garden variety school pressure occupy my thoughts.  And more and more, I feel like all I can really do is worry.  I've checked, and I'm not allowed to lock them up until it's safe outside.  More and more, I feel emotionally torn between keeping them from the world and losing them to the world.  Choosing to either stunt their self-confidence and autonomy or release them to the possibility of real dangers.  Have I mentioned that I miss the toddler years?

I want to protect them from the friends that are cutting, desperately wishing that the depths of human pain won't be witnessed quite so soon.  I want to shelter them from the gangbangers looking to fulfill their twisted initiation rite - physical violence to another person, any person, as they wait at the bus stop.  I want to teleport them to a time past high school where their own ideas for themselves can be realized instead of the forced constructs of standardized tests telling them what is possible.  I could shelter them from the world, drive them everywhere, allow visits with friends only in our own home, and provide private tutors instead of public schooling.  They'd be safe(r).  The only problem with that scenario is that with that level of life experience, I envision them still living in our home, with me doing everything for them, well into their thirties.

So, instead I have this reality.  My son is still helping fix the garage except higher up and using power tools.  Just like here, I'm out of the picture but waiting down below, out of sight, picking up pieces of debris. Loving other people is gut wrenching.  Loving children is heartbreak, in all the good and bad ways you can imagine.