Refugees: Defining moments

Appreciative of all those posting about refugees over the past few days and particularly those focused on the responsibility of Christianity.

I was moved to tears last April when I heard Patrick Kearon’s speech.

Hearing portions of it again, with the addition of images, music, and stories, brings those feelings back. I agree with his sentiments:

“This moment [of being a refugee] will not define them, but our response will help define us.”

Personal experience with refugees, right off the plane, and with those working to rebuild their lives, having escaped war and the horrors that come with it, has shaped my outlook on life.

There is some Mormon specific terminology in his speech but otherwise, it is simple Christianity. A Christianity I think even an atheist can appreciate.

Laos to Nashville: One-on-one experience

Laos_1980I had my first experience with refugees from Laos in 1980. I’m the boy in the photo on the left. My mother was involved in helping several families, who had been living in refugee camps in Thailand, resettle in Nashville. At age six, in some ways, my job wasn’t much different than her’s. Be myself and be a friend.

They had to flee their country because their lives were in danger. Some of their family did not survive.

As an adult I’ve been fortunate to know many former refugees. Today most are well established citizens because someone, years earlier, was willing to help them navigate the challenges of assimilating into a new world.

I share this with the hope that it may benefit those with concerns about refugees today.

There is a Lao saying, “Ten mouths speaking are not as good as seeing with one’s own eyes; ten eyes that see are not as good as what one has in one’s hand.”

One-on-one experience makes a difference.

 

Fathers Still Matter

Tender moments between father and sonIn the United States, 24 million children, one out of three, grow up in homes without their biological father. 

One of the best ways to strengthen society is to keep fathers in the lives of their children. 

When you diminish the role of a father in any way, you diminish a child. I encourage everyone to re-establish the role of fathers in the home as equal to the role of mothers.

You don’t have to be perfect to be a family; you just have to be willing to never give up.

Here is an infographic, based in part on data from the US Census Bureau, illustrating the impact of children growing up without a father in the home. 

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Memorial Day: Charles Arthur Shannon 1913 – 1945

Charles Arthur Shannon 1913 – 1945

My great uncle, Arthur Shannon, was an aerial photographer in the United States Army Air Corps during World War II. On April 14, 1945 his plane crashed in the sea near Formosa (Taiwan). He was picked up by the United States Navy but died shortly thereafter as a result of injuries sustained in the crash. He was thirty-two.

A collection of his papers and his Purple Heart sit on a shelf in my office. A few dozen letters to his sisters, mother, a nephew, and his wife Regina; college admission letters, telegrams, clipped newspaper articles; a large scrapbook typical of the 1930s and 1940s, and a few photographs are all that remain to tell the story of his life. 

He grew up with his parents and five siblings in a house near the corner of North Avenue and North Highland in Atlanta, Georgia. The family attended Druid Hills Baptist Church and Regina lived near by. According to one of his report cards, in 1928 he only missed one day of school at Bass Junior High School in Little Five Points.

A letter dated May 8, 1945, from the United States Secretary of War, addressed to Regina, reads as follows:

My dear Mrs. Shannon:

At the request of the President, I write to inform you that the Purple Heart has been awarded posthumously to your husband, Sergeant Charles A. Shannon, Air Corps, who sacrificed his life in the defense of his country.

Little that we can do or say will console you for the death of your loved one. We profoundly appreciate the greatness of your loss, for in a very real sense the loss is a loss shared by all of us. When the medal, which you will shortly receive, reaches you, I want you to know that with it goes my sincerest sympathy, and the hope that time and victory of our cause will finally lighten the burden of your grief.

Sincerely yours,

Henry L. Stimson

Arthur’s marriage to Regina was short. They had known each other for years but didn’t marry until Arthur’s enlistment in the Army. They never lived together due to the war and had no children. Regina died in a car accident just a few months after Arthur’s military death benefits began to arrive. It’s ironic that they both died in a crash on opposite sides of the earth.

There is no heroic story to tell about his wartime experience. Just a citizen doing his duty. A son, brother, uncle, and husband whose life was cut short in defense of the republic. There was no ram in the thicket that day. No one to step in and take his place.

The cost of war is high. Did he die in vain? What would he say if he could answer the question? His voice has been silenced yet in my mind the gentle and clear answer is, no. The cost of tyranny is much higher.

“Love’s Austere and Lonely Offices”

This evening, I’ve been reflecting on the last two lines of the poem “Those Winter Sundays” by Robert Hayden. The character in the poem is an adult looking back at the cold winter mornings of youth, recognizing the lack of gratitude shown towards the family patriarch in what the author calls a house of “chronic angers.” The poem concludes with the lines:

“What did I know, what did I know of Love’s austere and lonely offices?”

The line “Love’s austere and lonely offices” is so pathetically true. Love is simple in nature yet there is a tendency to make it something glamorous, something beyond its scope. Something it cannot and should not be. At times, love is austere; it is stern and unadorned. It is silent, hidden behind the scenes.

A friend edits the ending of every fairy tales she reads to her children, adding; “and they worked really hard on their marriage, and lived happily ever after.” She is opening their imaginations to the story between the pages. The real life story of the silent heroes we call mom and dad.

For a child, love’s lonely office includes not understanding why “no” and “not now” mean “I love you.”

For a married couple love’s “lonely offices” are they places they stand without regard to personal pleasure. Because of love, friends and extended family never come first. Because of love, time and resources are sacrificed for things that hold little interest. Because of love, both will fret over whether or not they have done the right thing.

It is love that allows them to disagree passionately without fear that an opinion held too strongly will break them apart. It is love that allows conflict and love that keeps all other opportunities for romantic interest out of sight and out of mind.

Love’s eye is not blind. It is selective. It weighs truth in the balance and understands that no collection of flaws and quirks are superior to the man, woman, or child they have chosen.

Certainly “love’s austere and lonely offices” are not the only offices held in marriage, but they are the sacrificial offices required to keep the flame of love’s temple alive.

“As long as I’m with you I’m not lost”

Lonesome Road by Cory Voglesonger

Years ago as my grandparents were driving through the mountains of North Georgia, my grandfather at the wheel and my grandmother at his side, my grandfather made a series of wrong turns before he realized he was lost. After trying several different routes he was not only unable to determine where they were headed, but he was eventually unable to get back to where they had been.

After all attempts had been exhausted he turned and said, “We’re lost.” My grandmother replied, “I’m not lost.” “What do you mean you’re not lost?” he asked. She said, “As long as I’m with you I’m not lost.”

The recognition that being together means never being lost is a profound truth. It was a characteristic of their marriage of over sixty years.  Location didn’t matter. Time didn’t matter. Being together, side by side, patient with each other, and knowing that those we travel with are far more important than when or how we reach our destination was what mattered.

After making a few course corrections they eventually found their way back to familiar roads. Throughout the rest of their lives together they continued to travel across the back roads of Georgia with their children, grandchildren, and other family members, occasionally getting turned around but never lost.  Their travels are a metaphor for their life together.

Are we truly lost when those who matter to us most are close by? My grandmother didn’t think so. Her nine little words, “As long as I’m with you I’m not lost”, speak volumes. They are also a reminder that kind words, spoken well, can last forever.