We in the United States celebrated Veterans Day last week. From coast to coast, we enjoyed parades, tributes, the laying of wreaths, and at the Vietnam Veterans War Memorial. Nearly 60,000 names of veterans killed in that war were read, day and night, for four days.
It is a solemn and sobering tribute, and if you're ever in Washington, DC, for Veterans Day, I encourage you to make a point to experience it. I can't think of another memorial or ceremony that illustrates the numbing finality of death, dealt by the faceless power mongers behind the curtains of every war.
This year, I had the honor of doing something in honor of veterans that I've never done before. I was invited to attend something called "veterans' court" at the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center. I won't go into the ingenious specifics of the program (see the December issue of the Gwinnett Citizen for those), but I did get the opportunity to talk to some of the veterans in that program in Judge Carla Brown's courtroom. The experience was one of those that changes a person; it certainly changed me.
On that Thursday, I talked to veterans of a couple of wars. I spoke with a young man named Nick, who has struggled with the difficulties of assimilating back into society after three tours in the middle east. As is true of so many veterans experiencing that difficulty, Nick was having a hard time getting any help from the VA hospital. He was left to treat himself with alcohol (again, not unusual). Of course, the alcohol abuse landed him in Judge Brown's court, and that may have been the best thing that could have happened to him. Nick is finally getting the help he'd been asking for.
I spoke with another gentleman, a Vietnam War veteran. These vets are a unique breed; at least, they are to me. I was just a kid, maybe 9 or 10 years old when the Vietnam war was at its wicked pitch. I remember the images on the evening news, of men -boys, really - dragging other boys' bodies out of the water or into the cover of the jungle canopy. I remember the numbers. Every evening, the numbers informed us of the death toll. As a kid, I remember thinking, "That's awful. It's scary. I'm glad it's way over there and not here where we live." Sounds selfish, I know, but those are the thoughts of a kid. They also reflect the naivete of a kid. Fast forward a few decades, and the battle has, in fact, been brought to us.
I digress. On Thursday, as I sat and listened to men and women talk to me about the tragedies, the losses, the nightmares and sleepless nights, I felt humbled. Honored. Thankful to be in that room at that time, because otherwise, I might never have heard what they all shared, and what one gentleman, in particular, had to say. This man (we'll call him "Bob") shared with me that, when he first entered Judge Brown's veterans court program, he didn't talk to people, and they didn't talk to him. He said he'd come and go, and even though he was surrounded by hundreds of people in the Gwinnett Justice and Administration building, he felt utterly alone.
"One day," he said, "I just decided to start talking to people. You know, young people don't talk to old people. They just look right past us." For some reason, that statement stuck with me. In fact, of all the profound stories shared with me that day, that one observation stuck with me like glue. I couldn't get it out of my head. Bob was right. In our culture, young people dismiss older folks, thinking of them as being slow and outdated. I get what Bob was telling me, perhaps because I am a mother of young adult children, and I often try to share my experience with them in a hopeful attempt to protect them or to steer them to good decisions. There's value in the older generations, in their (our) experience, and here in the states, it's largely untapped. We'd do well to take a page or two from books written by other cultures, many of which revere their elderly. Where would we teach that? My guess is where everything else is taught - at home.
So here's a challenge: I hope each and every one of you will invite a senior to Thanksgiving dinner, or to a Christmas celebration. If that's not possible, I hope you'll spend time this season at a local assisted living facility. Get to know the residents. Talk to them; listen to them. Ask them questions. Sing with them. You'll be surprised by all the smart, fascinating and good-sense things you learn. And don't forget, they have an amazing library from which to spin spellbinding stories.
Who knows? You might just start a new tradition in your home this year.
Carole Townsend is a Gwinnett author and freelance writer. Her fourth book, BLOOD IN THE SOIL, was named Finalist for 2017 Georgia Author of the Year in the Detective/Mystery genre. Her previous three books are written with loving humor about the South. Carole often appears on network television talk and news shows, as well as on national radio shows. Her books can be found in bookstores, on Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble.com, and at www.caroletownsend.com. When she's not writing, Carole travels throughout the southeast, talking to groups about women, writing, family, and life in her beloved South. Follow Carole on Facebook (Carole Townsend-Author), Twitter @caroletownsend, or Instagram @carole.w.riter.