Thursday, November 15, 2007

Thanks Vets & Families

About once/month I "live blog" a highway intersection at the gateway to the Napa Valley, using Crosses4Peace as a reminder of the tragic costs of war. The star-spangled banner flies at half-mast because our countrymen are still dying in Iraq and Afghanistan. I turn a card table on it's side to use as a temporary billboard. The first time, the billboard stood behind the field of 38 simple white gravemarkers, asking "How many more?" On another day, I had great fun with "Honk 2 Impeach" placed further behind the crosses display. I did not want to imply the fallen soldiers were calling for impeachment. I don't claim to speak for them.

As you can imagine, most people were pretty excited and gave honks of support, waves, peace signs and the like. As you can also imagine, not everyone was so pleased. A passenger who was stopped at the light yelled "How dare you?! They died for your right to do that!" I replied he was correct and that just as my grandfather had fought against facism on the beaches of Normandy, I was fighting against it here.

Nevertheless, his reminder was timely. On November 10, 2007 I remembered what he said: "They died for your right to do that!". So, on Sunday, 11-11-07, I left the Crosses4Peace and "War is not the Answer" signs (provided by Friends Committee for National Legislation [FCNL]) at home. I made it to the "live blog site" at 1:00. Old Glory flew high and proud that day. I carried a smaller flag behind my billboard which read simply "Thanks Vets & Families". This day wasn't about hawks or doves (or even vultures with no bid contracts). It was about Americans, gratitude, respect and human decency.

I was apprehensive when the Wal-mart truck driver pulled over. Was he just checking some mechanical whatchamacallit or would he come to talk to me? Most people who stop usually say something kind, whereas harsh words are hollered from the safety of a car's interior, but I have been confronted personally before... so you never can tell. He was REALLY big and his black t-shirt proclaimed he was an "American Trucker". He extended a closed black-gloved paw (it was HUGE!). In my mind, I thought, I can't believe this big man is going to hit (li'l ole) me without even saying anything and I imagined what it would feel like when his fist met my face. That's when he opened his hand and gave me the firmest, yet warmest hand shake I've ever had. He said he wanted to thank me. Fortunately, I was standing uphill from him so I could see the sincerity in his light blue eyes. The repressed fear and emotion of the moment began leaking from my eyes. I was glad I was wearing sunglasses.

"Are you a Vet?," I inquired.

He said, "Yes."

I gauged his age. "Desert Storm?"

Still holding my hand, he nodded.

"I'm glad you're back." I said

"Thank you." He said, then turned to go. I blew him a kiss before as he merged into traffic.

It's ironic. I felt so vulnerable alone on the hill when he first came to me, but because of the warmth of his grip and the vulnerability behind his eyes, I stayed twice as long as I'd planned. I'd gone to make other people feel appreciated and important -- and I believe I did -- but I was the one who went home feeling more valuable that I had in years.

Is this still a great country, or what!

P.S. As I expected, this was the most well-received live highway blog -- as measured by honks, waves, peace signs and verbal high 5's -- I've ever hosted.