The Silence of a Falling Star Lights Up a Purple Sky

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The Silence of a Falling Star Lights Up a Purple Sky

I’ve Never Seen A Night So Long

Emotionally Raw, Tired, and Overwhelmed

I’m really tired tonight, emotionally exhausted. Trying to write my Grace in Small Things list for today was really hard. I took on a hard topic last night, and it’s still with me. Any one of the three stories that I found would have been pretty bad on its own, but to put all three together—I think that it was just too much.

I cannot get out of my head the image of the 93-year-old man who froze to death inside of his house because of a bureaucratic decision. I cannot forget about the two EMT’s who made the decision not to resuscitate a man based on the condition of his house. My god, if they came into my house right now, this very moment, if anyone who worked for social services or the city government came into my home right now they would think that I’m a terrible mother, that my children are deprived, that my house should be condemned, and most certainly, that I am not worth saving.

My house is a complete and total mess. I have cobwebs because I cannot reach them with my ostrich feather duster to clean them. The last time that I tried to do that, I pulled my back. My living room still has two dining room chairs in boxes because my eldest son refuses to take the ornaments off the Christmas tree. It has become a point of downright contention. My youngest son’s room is neat and tidy.

My room is relatively organized, but dusty. The kitchen looks like a disaster, but is wiped down daily with disinfectant spray, and the sink is scrubbed with liquid bleach. Clothes are washed and dried daily. Everyone bathes daily. I personally clean the bathroom on my hands and knees with a cloth and spray disinfectant because I don’t trust my sons to do it right, and Corey has enough to do around here. I can’t walk after I do it, and I have to get in bed and take my muscle relaxers afterwards, but it’s clean.

Regardless, the house still looks terrible because there are things everywhere from where we pulled things out to start the remodeling. Boxes, furniture, all sorts of things in the wrong places. Would that mean that I wouldn’t get the needed attention from an EMT because it wouldn’t look as if I deserved it? Who were these people to make this decision. I am completely flummoxed.

And then there is the story of the two children: Sage and Bear and their father. I have tried all day to put them out of my mind and find that I cannot because there are too many stories of too many children like Sage and Bear. I just came across another story of a 19-year-old and her boyfriend who beat to death her two -year-old daughter for not saying please, but she did manage to keep saying “Mommy I love you” while they beat the very life out of her.

There are too many stories like this for my heart to hold. I do not know how the men and women who work in these professions can do it, can go to their jobs everyday and hear about these children, or on the opposite side, hear about these monsters. I don’t know how social services can try to work with families who are so obviously dysfunctional but the courts say that placement with the biological parents is preferable. I don’t know how the doctors and nurses can look at the shattered bodies who are brought to them in the aftermath of parental and spousal warfare. I don’t know how the EMT’s can go into a house and remove the body of a 93-year-old man who died on a technicality.

Think of all that this man had survived: two world wars, the Great Depression, the Korean War, the Viet Nam War, the Twin Towers, desegregation, women getting the vote, a man landing on the moon, cars, television, and telephones. He saw great inventions and terrible creations of mass destruction. He saw all of the wonderful things that our country celebrated: the end of wars, ticker tape parades, the first step on the moon, the destruction of the Berlin Wall, and he saw all of the evil of the world: Pearl Harbor, Nazi Germany, Waco, 9/11, and all of the rest. And the final helplessness of dying of hypothermia in his own home.

To all of the people who do the hard jobs that I know that I would like to do but cannot, I offer my sincere gratitude. You walk into houses. You look for the lost children. You do not stop until you find the monsters. You live with the monsters, carry them with you, tucked away in you back pockets so that they do not touch the sanctity of your own families, but they are always with you until you can pass them along to the next link in the chain.

And some of you are never able to let go of the monsters, even when they are dead and gone. That is their heinous legacy to those whose lives they have stolen.

Newest Statistic That I Never Needed To Know

So today I learned from one of the Veterans’ websites that everday approximately 18 American war veterans commit suicide; every month, almost 1,000 veterans receiving care from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs attempt suicide (http://www.commondreams.org/archive/2008/05/11/8868).

This startling statistic is news to most Americans because the Bush administration did not want this news to be made public to Americans. It has taken a law case, officially known as Veterans for Common Sense vs. Peake, for this news to reach the American public. This case is a class action lawsuit brought by Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans for United Truth on behalf of 1.7 million veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Under the conditions of the case, the VA had to produce a series of documents.

In one letter from Dr. Ira Katz, former head of the VA’s Mental Health Division, Katz opens his key e-mail with “Shh!” Katz advises a media spokesperson not to tell CBS News that 1,000 veterans receiving care at the VA try to kill themselves every month.

Another shocking number is 287,790—the actual number of American veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan who had failed VA disability claims since March 25 2008. Other casualty statistics not normally revealed:  Number of American troops wounded in Iraq: 31,948;  Number of troops “injured” in Iraq”: 10,180; Number of  troops “ill” in Iraq: 28,451.

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Those three number total represent soldiers who are so damaged physically that they have to be evacuated to Germany. By splitting the numbers into three categories, it makes the number of casualties appear to be lower. Or, at least that was the thinking in the Bush administration.
 
Personally, the number manipulation just makes it that more tragic. These numbers are people, not numbers. If the American people were aware of just how many of its warriors were dying not only on foreign soil, but also on American soil, after they have come home, after they have been taken out of combat, if they only knew just how its veterans were waiting years for decisions on their benefits, perhaps they would be less complacent. If only we had seen the flag-draped coffins sooner, perhaps the reality might have moved beyond our periphery sooner.
Perhaps tomorrow will be a better day. More later. Peace.

Veterans’ Day: A Memorial to My Father

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Dad on the Far Right

My father, Exequiel Liwag, was not a man who liked to call attention to himself. For example, it was not until we were going through his personal items after he died that we found out that he had won the Bronze Star for Valor during World War II. But that was how he was: unassuming.

He loved thrift stores, even though he could afford to wear better, he didn’t really see the point. He loved his 1966 Ford Falcon. That was his baby. He adored his grandchildren, and when he found out that he had pancreatic cancer, the one thing that he said that he regretted was that he wouldn’t be around to see them grow up. He loved to work in his garden, and he used his machete from the war to hack away at the weeds, squatting down on his haunches like a native, doing battle with crab grass and weeds. And he loved to fish. He would go off at night and fish off the old Harrison’s pier, the wooden one before the hurricane washed it away. (He would hate the new one, all rebuilt and yuppie with bright lights and a cafe.)

My dad, like many Filipino men of his generation, first served in the Philippine guerrilla army before joining the U.S. Navy. However, the difference is that he lied about his age. He was barely 17 when he joined the Navy, and he had already seen combat in the jungles of the Philippines. His family had hidden in the caves for safety from the Japanese, and his mother lost the youngest children in the family, twin babies, because of the harsh conditions and a lack of food. My dad joined the Navy so that he could send money back to his family, something he did for many years after the war was long over, which enabled his brothers and sister to come to the states to get educations and better lives.

He also served during the Korean conflict—never really called a war, and then he had a breather during which he had extended shore duty, heading the household staffs for several admirals, which is how I came to attend public school in London. While he was still on Navy ships, my dad slipped on an icy gangplank while disembarking and injured his back, an injury that caused him back pain for the rest of his life.

He retired from the Navy after putting in his 20 years, and he tried to stay on dry land, but it wasn’t for him, so he joined the merchant marines, which is how he came to be in the middle of yet another war: the Viet Nam war. During this conflict his ship took on heavy fire, and we received word that his ship was badly damaged. For a while, we did not know his fate because, of course, the world was not wired the way that it is today, and it took much longer to get news.

Luckily, he was not hurt, and he was just transferred to another ship. During Viet Nam, his tours were six to nine months at a time, and he was always in harms’ way.

I don’t ever remember him complaining. I just remember his body slowly curving more and more over the years. His left hand atrophied as the muscle wore away, and his back always ached. But he stayed at sea until he couldn’t go any more.

My father came from a country thousands of miles away. His risked his life time and time again, first for his family in the Philippines, and later for his new country and his family in the United States. He never questioned whether or not he was doing the right thing. He believed that his country, the United States of America was the greatest country in the world. He sang the national anthem off-key, but he sang it proudly. He saluted his flag, and he believed in his country.

There were times when his country let him down. When we tried to live in the Philippines after he retired, he wasn’t allowed the same benefits as other retirees. I was too young to remember why, but I remember that it happened, and that my parents were upset by this. I remember, too, that he was upset when he found out that the money that he had been paying into survivor benefits for my mother wasn’t going to amount to very much and that he could have been paying that money into an interest-bearing account that would have yielded much more. But he had invested into the U.S. Government, never thinking for one minute that his government would not protect him and my mother.

When my father died, he was entitled to a veteran’s funeral: a flag-draped casket and a 21-gun salute. We requested that “Taps” be played. Actually, I made that request. I had no idea that unless you were some kind of officer of rank, you didn’t actually get a bugle player; you got a cassette tape version of “Taps,” which, I suppose, is better than nothing. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful in any way. It was just a shock to the system to hear a tinny cassette and not a proud bugle.

Pretty much everything I learned about honor and duty I learned from my father. He worked hard all of his life, and he devoted a large part of that life to this country. He came from a small country thousands of miles away, just a boy really, and he gave this country whatever it asked of him.

I once said that if had to vote for only one issue in this past election, it would be for veterans’ rights, and I stand by that. How a country treats the men and women who serve it and die for it is a direct reflection of how that country feels about its citizenry as a whole, for its veterans represent its citizens. Our veterans go to war to protect our freedoms. They go to war so that the rest of us do not have to. They go to war so that we can say what we want whenever we want. They got to war so that I have the freedom to express myself in this blog. They go to war so that we can vote for whichever candidate we choose in a free election process. How we treat them when they come home should be as the true heroes that they are.

Our veterans should not have to fight for medical treatment. Our veterans should not have to fight for benefits. Our veterans should not be living on the street. Our veterans should never, ever be called names or be made to feel ashamed for doing what their country asked of them.

My father was a veteran. I am incredibly proud of him for the service that he gave to this country. That is only one reason that I am proud of him, but it is one of the more important ones. I still miss him terribly. But on this day, he, like thousands and thousands of others, deserves our support, our thanks, our recognition, and our undying respect.

As always, more later. Peace.

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