Thursday, November 02, 2006

Autumn Visit...

Churchville VA.

A local elementary school heard of the “From Our Hearts” program and wanted to send something special to the troops so the first graders, with some help from their fifth grade “Buddies”, put together some notes for the troops. They also attached a leaf of their choice to their letters so that our Troops can remember for a moment the precious changing of the seasons back home…

A dear friend Rhonda Winfield spends her time visiting injured troops at the Veterans hospital and told me of a recent visit. I asked her to write of the visit and below is what she sent me.
We will be doing one last shipment to the troops for the Holiday season.

More info will follow very soon so please check back often and help us to make this an outstanding “Holiday Shipment” to our Troops…


As I walked toward the entrance, I found myself even more nervous than the first visit a week earlier. I paused in the middle of the sidewalk to look upward and let the enormity of the American flag flying there engulf my senses. It was the largest flag I had ever seen and I found myself in as much awe of it as I had the week previously. While I felt no breeze against my face, the heavens were whispering a flutter directly into her billowing folds and floating her gently against the blue sky. There was a heavy silence here, broken only by the slightest rustling of the silken fibers as she would fall against herself on a down draft. She flowed in slow motion and the world directly beneath her became somehow synchronized to her rhythm. The glory and majesty of her beauty was intoxicating and I prayed that the significance of it was not missed on a single visitor to this place.

I was entering a United States Veteran’s hospital to visit a patient as a favor to a mutual friend. It was an effort to provide a young soldier with a much needed distraction from the nightmare that had quickly become his life. This young Army Ranger Sergeant had just turned twenty-four years old while lying in a hospital bed paralyzed from the neck down. His spinal cord had been severed by a bullet while under enemy attack in Iraq just eight weeks before. When I first visited, he had a ventilator in place and was unable to speak. I walked into the room, as a total stranger, introduced myself and informed his family that we had a friend in common. Not knowing whether my interruption into their very private Hell would be welcome or not, I made my way to the Sergeant’s bedside. He looked at me with pain filled eyes and even though we had never seen one another before, he instantly knew I needed to be here with him. The pain of his injuries was obvious but the pain in his heart was the most unbearable. I believe he could see I came to him a broken being as well. His eyes held me that day. I will never know why we felt an instant comfort with one another but in that understanding I felt the burdens I had come with, lift from my shoulders and was consumed with the force that we secretly shared. Though there were others around us, we were alone in our presence and focused only on one another. Drawn into him by his gaze, I leaned close to his ear, only for him to hear, and whispered, "I know that no one will ever understand what you left behind on that battlefield and that your greatest hurt comes from being here without your boys." He indicated by slightly nodding his head that this was true and I continued, "And I just want you to know that I get that." He had tears in his eyes and he mouthed the words to me, "thank you". We looked at each other with a certain understanding and the rest of the room was left to wonder what was occurring between us. They remained silent in their uncertainly as I placed my face against his and our tears ran down our cheeks together. I stroked his hair and whispered my name to him and told him I would be back in a week to see him again. He indicated that he wanted me to and after giving his family my phone number, I left.

I wasn’t ready to leave the hospital just yet, though. I had asked the nurse’s station for a few names of patients that could use a visitor. Sadly, the list of those who had not received one in months was long. I chose a ward to enter where all of the patients were much older veterans, all suffering from spinal cord injuries. I walked in, after taking a deep breath, and announced loudly that I was just in the neighborhood and wanted to stop by the hero ward. They all looked at me, first startled, then seemingly in shock and finally visibly moved. There delight was that of a child suddenly being given candy and we instantly became fast friends. When I left, I promised them I would return as well. One of them asked where I was from and told me of his days as a young man, before his service in Vietnam, when he visited our valley and walked in the vibrant colored leaves of our fall foliage. His mind was far away when I closed the door behind me and I wanted desperately to bring him the days of that autumn once again.

Now, returning, as promised, I could barely pull myself away from the trance of our nation’s colors. I found it difficult to hold back the tears suddenly surging forth. These men, both the young and the old, had served their flag faithfully and now I was going to try to somehow serve them. I pulled the bag I was carrying a little closer to me, as though by holding it closer to my heart I could keep it pure and sacred until I could deliver its contents to the intended recipients inside.

I went to the ward first. Everyone was asleep except for my friend who shared my love of the Valley. His face sprang to life as he saw me and he rejoiced that I had kept my promise and returned. I told him that I had brought him a gift. I told him I had brought our Valley with me.

My next stop met me with surprise as I saw my young friend without his ventilator. His mother told me that he could say a few words now but I didn’t want him to waste a precious one. I shared my gift with him also. He was grateful for my surprise, both the one in the bag and the one that simply said that I had not forgotten to return to him.
So very different, yet they were so alike. Two completely different strangers sharing love with another unknown and finding all that is good in the world within it. Two different generations, two different eras, two different wars and yet one common uniting factor-they were American patriots.
My soul absorbed so much that day as I watched both men look into my bag at the assortment of leaves from my yard. They both marveled at the vibrant colors and stretched their necks to further inhale the smell of the turning seasons. They both obediently closed their eyes when I asked them to and listened as I crumbled the leaves with my hands. One man, wishing forward toward a future where he might yet experience the changing seasons of his life and still knowing that he would never walk in leaves again. One man, reflecting back into a day long since forgotten when he played with an abandon that he would never reclaim. Both men, however, walked that day with me in our minds.
They both gave me a gift that day, as well. In the ward, my older friend asked me to keep the leaves close by so their smell could stay with him for a while longer. I stroked his cheek until his memories gave way to slumber and I stood in silence watching the rising and falling of his chest, independent of his will, until I felt my own memories filter into a new place in my heart.
Later, when I was leaving the room of my much younger friend, I told him that next year when the leaves were turning; we would sit in my yard together and watch them dance around our heads. He simply managed a smile and then uttered my name.
I have never heard anything so pure as the first word heard from his mouth. I will hear its sweet echo for the rest of my days.

I looked again at the massive flag on my way down the sidewalk. It seemed to be waving me farewell. This piece of cloth is what bound us together. These colors ran through each of us and uniquely we each gave a part of ourselves to it. We were Americans and the fact that we were strangers was something that had been lost on us.

I will return. I will return to my new friends and for ones that I haven’t found there yet. I will return to give and know I will leave the one who truly received.


At 6:41 PM, Blogger f mcdonald said...

God bless Rhonda and these brave men.
I would write more but the computer screen is awfully blurry.

At 10:01 PM, Blogger JohnMaxfield said...

Rhonda is an amazing women...she represents all that is right in America.


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