All of us who were living on September 11, 2001 probably remember where we were when we heard the news. It’s hard to believe that there is an entire generation of young people who don’t know a pre-9/11 world.
They also are living in a world where divisive politics define the tone of all things. They haven’t experienced a time when Americans were united under one flag without regard to politics. Remember how people came together? While first responders rushed to help, the rest of us gave blood, gathered supplies, prayed and did what we could to help in our own way.
Now it’s an official day of service. This brings me hope as our nation badly needs to embrace unity and service to others.
I’ll be spending my day volunteering in my community and I am grateful for the opportunity to do some good.
The pictures are from the memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. – hallowed ground where a plane full of strangers worked together to make the impossible decision to crash in a field rather than allow terrorists to reach their destination.
Before leaving Aztec, New Mexico, we circled back to a church at the edge of town that I had admired on the way in.
St. Joseph Church was built in 1946 and is positively charming. It’s cheerful and brightly decorated with beautiful pots of flowers.
I was just snapping a couple of cell phone pictures when a sedan stopped in the street and blew the horn.
The elderly driver of this car rolled down the window to ask if I was ok. I told her that I just liked the church and she thanked me. She attends this church and told me about how beautiful it is inside. She invited me to attend a service someday and shared stories about the kindness shown to her by the congregation during recent times of trouble.
She shared about her upcoming visit with her son who nearly died of Covid and about her boyfriend who recently passed away.
She was delightful and I was touched by her concern.
I shared with her a little about the road trip I was on with my friend and she asked about Ohio. She wished us a safe journey and promised to pray for our safe return to our respective homes.
Later I learned that her beautiful church has been vandalized a few times in the last year. I imagine she was actually concerned about her house of worship and the intentions of a stranger. You can read a story about the vandalism here.
It’s ridiculous that this is a worry but I’m always glad for those good Samaritans who keep their eyes peeled for potential trouble. The world could use more people like that.
I usually like to reflect on accomplishments and lessons learned during the last year. Honestly, I don’t know what I learned this year other than how to adapt, make do and survive. Changes at work and a major hiccup in my physical well being have dominated these last several months.
I’m tired and I’m tired of feeling like I’m living in a fog while fighting to figure out my new life. The issues that come with hypothyroidism are surprisingly difficult to shake.
It’s not all bad though. My health has improved and things have settled down at work. I’m hopeful that I’m headed in the right direction because survival mode is no place to dwell for too long. Once it becomes a way of life, it’s hard to get back to something better.
So there was a lot of good amidst the sad, the frustrating and the exhausting. It wasn’t all bad but it was still vital that the last day of my 44th trip around the sun be a good one.
And so I made it that way.
First up, I met a friend for a biplane ride at the James A. Rhodes Airport in Jackson County. My friend Dewey had brought his biplane Ace – a 1929 Travel Air – for some good old fashioned Barnstorming. I never pass up an opportunity to ride with him and it was a bucket list item for my friend too!
I had actually met Dewey at this airport a few years ago. You can also read about that experience – still one of my favorite memories. Learn more about him and his planes at his website.
The airport was hosting a fly-in so there were other aircraft including an incredible B-25 Mitchell Bomber from the Tri State Warbirds Museum.
And this nice Stearman which I believe was a World War II era training plane.
It was a gorgeous day. At eighty degrees, it was much cooler than we’ve seen lately and the sky was a brilliant blue. So after the airport event, I swung by Lake Katherine Nature Preserve for a peaceful hike.
It was wonderful having a moment in the woods to reflect, move and simply breathe. Sometimes you need to just breathe and do nothing else.
All told, this was a perfect day. Planes and nature. What more can a gal want?
When I went adventuring with my pal Jerry last Friday, I told him that I wanted to walk to the lake shore for a better picture of “that bright pink house.”
He was quiet for a moment and inquired about the house.
That one over there, the pink one, I motioned.
He seemed perplexed when he responded he didn’t see a pink house.
That’s when I realized what was going on. I took off my sunglasses to reveal the house was not bright pink at all. It was vaguely pinkish but my sunglasses had made it appear much brighter.
Those sunglasses represent most blues, browns and greens accurately. Reds, pinks and yellows are exaggerated.
This got me thinking about the lenses with which we view the world.
We all have them. There’s no denying it. We all view the world through the lenses of our own experiences and what we are taught.
My exoerience as a reporter taught me there are multiple sides to every story and that my own ethics are vital to my happiness. Perhaps this is why my brand of documentary photography suits me so well. You won’t catch me photoshopping in a ray of sunshine into a portrait of a family standing in a gloomy wheat field.
I am a realist who is slow to judge. I see the world for what it is but always want more information. Facts, figures and original sources are the only things I care about. Someone’s opinion or emotions that have been triggered by a cable tv sound byte are useless.
In fact, I would argue that the modern American tendency to use emotions rather than fact accounts for a big part of our nation’s problems.
Whether you do or don’t like a politician doesn’t make you right about them. Just because your religion tells you to do something doesn’t make it right or fair and it certainly may not be the best choice for every person in the world. The fact that egging on the nastiness of this world appeals to something deep inside many people doesn’t make them people who should be followed.
In many cases, these things or these lenses become obstacles to reaching the truth.
Those lenses can get us into trouble.
Like my favorite pair of aviator sunglasses, listening, comprehension and the search for enlightenment should never go out of style.
Unfortunately, when it comes to things like religion or political party lines, it’s much harder to know you’re even wearing a colored lens. It’s even harder to recognize you need to do something about it.
It’s way easier when you can just take off the sunglasses and see that the house isn’t the pretty pink you first believed.
Earlier this year, a very large metal object destroyed one of my car tires. I was in need of tires anyway and found myself sitting in the waiting room of the only tire shop in the area with four of my required tires in stock.
What could have been a mundane two hour wait turned out to be one of the most interesting experiences of my life.
I had brought some work to do so I simply nodded and smiled toward the other person in the waiting room – an elderly man who was fiddling with his phone. I settled into my work until he struck up a conversation, something or other about patience, waiting and how his career had kept him busy.
Being me, I couldn’t resist asking what he did and was delighted at the stories that followed.
He was retired Air Force and had once overseen the mechanics who worked on all the planes that fly in and out of an Rickenbacker Airport here in Ohio. Before that, his career took him all over the world, including to a hot spot in the Middle East where he planned the air strip and all the necessary buildings and plane parking necessary for American aircraft to efficiently fly in and out.
He has been to all fifty states and all but six countries. He has lived in many. Rather than just visit, he preferred to stay for a few months, make friends and really learn the culture. His favorite place is the South of France.
His career took him all over but he had a true passion for travel so he leveraged his Air Force benefits to travel even more.
He shared with me two lessons.
1. Travel as much as you can when you’re young enough to enjoy it. He said “don’t wait till you’re old and have bad knees like me. You’ll regret it because you won’t be able to enjoy walking around and won’t have the stamina to see what’s around the block.”
2. When you get a pay increase or any kind of windfall, save as much as you can, but don’t deny yourself travel money. See lesson #1 above.
Before leaving, he looked me square in the eye and said “go see as much of the country or the rest of the world as you can. If you like to travel, and you clearly do, you’ll never regret a single dollar you spend.”
I was delighted by this exchange and was a little sad to see him go but I went back to my work and reveled in the chat with my new friend and enabler.
A few minutes passed before a Hispanic man joined me in the waiting room. We smiled and nodded and sat in silence until an elderly woman named Victoria joined us. She was watching the news on television and asked if I knew anything about the story that was playing. She had missed the beginning.
It was about issues refugees are facing at a border crossing somewhere. I knew nothing about it but the man looked up and made eye contact. So I asked him and he shared a few things that he knew about it.
This led to a conversation about how scary it would be to leave everything you know to journey far to a strange land with an uncertain future for yourself and your family. How bad is life where you live that this kind of drastic move would seem like a good idea?
I will stop here to say that he spoke great English but with an accent. He occasionally used the wrong word or tense but these mistakes were no worse than any of the botched English I’ve heard from Ohio natives.
He seemed kind and open to conversation. It’s a good thing too because Victoria and I had many questions.
We asked him how long he has been in this country, how he found Chillicothe, if people are nice, does he like it here? He answered all of our prying questions both thoughtfully and patiently. He came to America legally when he was a young man. I suspect he was a migrant farm worker for some time because he said he traveled for work at first. He is a contractor by trade and is proud of his children. His youngest was to graduate high school soon and he mentioned a son who has a good job with a prosperous local employee.
He loves Chillicothe because people treat him well. It’s safe to walk down the street and people are friendly. They wave. He has a successful business and his family is very happy.
The conversation eventually turned to Victoria, a retiree who enjoys traveling and who has found the pandemic trying. She worked for a big employer in the area until it changed hands several years ago. She was in her early sixties with one eye on retirement a little later down the road. New management forced her into early retirement because she didn’t have a college degree. Never mind she had been doing her job for over forty years and could work circles around whatever young college graduate they got to replace her for a fraction of her salary.
At first, she wasn’t happy to be retired. In fact, she was kind of bitter. But then she realized she had time to travel and to do as she pleases.
She shared that she is single and childless. “I almost married a guy once but I dodged a bullet there. He was a jerk,” she exclaimed.
She talked about her wonderful life, friends, and saving money. She also talked about traveling and doing the things that make your life full and worth living.
Life lessons from Victoria:
1.”Never let anyone make you feel bad for being single or for not having kids,” she said. “Their choices don’t have to be your choices.”
2. Travel all you can, take up hobbies, fill your time with things that will make you smarter and happier. “Say YES as much as you can. By saying yes, you’re taking action.”
And just as suddenly as she arrived and sparked an amazing conversation, she was gone. Her headlight was repaired and Victoria was off, presumably on another adventure.
The gentleman and I continued our conversation with him showing me pictures and videos of recently completed jobs. He does remodeling work like kitchens and bathrooms. He also builds porches and decks and shared a video of a simply beautiful series of decks he built at a local home.
Here’s what I learned from him.
1. Love the work you do. He loves his job because he makes people smile when they get their dream kitchen or when he helps them select just the right shower tile. There’s meaning to each project, a deadline and sense of completion. You spend a lot of time at work so it’s best to be good at your job and to find it fulfilling.
2. Don’t listen to the pundits on television who tell you what to think about immigrants. Instead, sit down and talk to someone. Learn their history and why they chose to live where they do. Are their neighbors nice to them? Is there really such a great divide in this country? This guy loves his town more than most American born people and I found that inspiring.
My two hour new set of tires gave me much food for thought and made me think about people and the lessons we learn from them. Sometimes the people we cross paths with out in the world can teach us great lessons. Sometimes the lesson is in how not to treat people. Sometimes the lessons are substantial and life changing.
The lessons I learned that day were not new to me. Save, travel, engage with people who are different than you, and never let judgement of others wreck your life – these are things I already knew.
All the same, it’s nice when life hands you a refresher course when you least expect and maybe most need to hear it.
Twelve years ago, my parents noticed that many of the older graves in our family cemetery no longer receive flowers for Memorial Day or at any other time of year. Even the ones that traditionally had been decorated every year no longer received visitors. I imagine that those who traditionally cared for them were people like my grandparents who have passed.
My dad commented on how lonely some of the graves seemed. Forgotten, he said. These aren’t just stone slabs in the ground. He pointed out that each grave represents someone’s parent, sibling, child, friend. Each grave represents someone who walked this earth, breathed air, lived and died. To someone at some time, every person buried in that cemetery was the most important person in the world.
My folks had this conversation the day before Memorial Day 2010. The two sprang into action — my dad heading to the garage and my mom to the dollar store. Dad constructed simple wooden crosses using lumber he had on hand. My mom purchased inexpensive silk flowers to attach to each cross. And by the following day, they had enough wooden crosses adorned with flowers to place at every grave in Garrett Cemetery where some of my immediate family is buried.
By the following year, they had painted all those crosses white, echoing the simplicity of the famous white crosses in Arlington.
Sadly, we lost another one of our own this year. My aunt Maryann left this world in August, joining her parents, husband and child in the little cemetery down the road from my home. My dad went back to the garage to assemble another white cross.
Thirty-five souls rest in that cemetery and thirty-five white crosses have been lovingly placed by my parents again this year.
They are modest people and don’t do it for the attention. It is a simple act but one with great impact. It is a moving sight, these white crosses. My mother insists that if every person who takes flowers to a grave would take an extra bouquet for someone who doesn’t receive visitors, the world would be a better place. I think she is right.
I wish I knew more of the stories behind the headstones but I do know some. My grandma’s brother died of influenza, just a toddler in 1922. My aunt and uncle — two of my favorite humans ever — each died young, leaving behind a hole in our family like none other.
My great-great-uncle Hobart Garrett was a farmer who died an old bachelor. There is an empty space next to him that I presume was for a wife who he never met living out here in the country. Hobart’s sister was a school teacher who had no kids of her own and who seemed to not really like kids. I have a small hand bell she used at the school as well as a handful of postcards, textbooks and even a purse that belonged to her.
All 35 were people just like you and me. All of them had a story to tell. Even if we don’t remember their stories, it’s nice to honor their memories.
My parents seem to think that no one else notices their crosses but I notice and I’m glad they do it.
If you’re out and about decorating graves this Memorial Day, perhaps consider taking extra flowers for a neglected grave or at least take a moment to brush the grass clippings off some headstones. Small gestures such as these may not change the world but you never know who is watching and besides, you’ll know that you did something nice for someone who can offer nothing in return.