Democracy in Action

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Democracy must be built through open societies that share information. When there is information, there is enlightenment. When there is debate, there are solutions. When there is no sharing of power, no rule of law, no accountability, there is abuse, corruption, subjugation and indignation. – Atifete Jahjaga, Kosovar politician and the fourth President of Kosovo. 

I readily admit that I have a love/hate relationship with politics. I tire easily of the high-blown rhetoric and empty promises of politicians jockeying for a one-up with the voters. In my 60+ years I’ve heard it all before.

But as I watched the Fox Business News Republican debate last night I found myself stirring with excitement as I looked at these articulate candidates and wondered which might be our next President. When I was in third grade at Fish Creek Elementary School in Georgia our teacher, Mrs. Albee, put pictures of Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy in our classroom. She encouraged us to watch the debates and we discussed them in class the next day. We anxiously awaited the election results which left some bitterly disappointed and the rest elated. Even at that young age we were engaged in the process of democracy. I expect the kind of interactive learning Mrs. Albee employed would be frowned upon in today’s politically correct, “I’m afraid I will offend someone” classrooms of today. She instilled in me a deep interest in government and politics that has lasted a lifetime.

I had the privilege of visiting the Senate in Washington, DC as a part of a leadership training program. As I sat in the gallery I eagerly pointed out senators I recognized to my seat mate. “Look, there’s Patrick Leahy and Susan Collins. And over there is Barack Obama, they say he wants to run for President.” She looked at me and asked how I knew all this. I answered in amazement, “I watch the news!” Sadly, this part of the trip did not hold the fascination for her that it did for me. While I was riveted, she was bored to tears. When I grew up we had three television channels and at 6:00 PM, you watched the news. We also took a newspaper that I devoured cover to cover each day when I got home from school.

I have to limit myself or I would watch news all day, and unfortunately, the content of most news programs today are more like the contents of a scandal magazine. Sensationalism sells. I do watch Fox News every evening and it is my channel of choice for keeping up with what is going on in the world. Bret Baier is unparalleled in current news reporters. He is fair, balanced and a journalist in the truest sense of the word.

I watched every minute of the two FBN debates and after the debacle of the CNBC “debate” it was refreshing to see a true debate with professional moderators who made the event about the candidates and not themselves – who asked the questions American voters want to hear, not “gotcha” or inane questions designed to make the moderators look good. Just a note, MSNBC and CNBC, you didn’t succeed if that was your goal. You came off looking like fools.

FBN is to be commended and as I watched the debate I found myself tingling with that old excitement and anticipation that Mrs. Albee instilled in me all those years ago in a tiny, backwoods Southern school. She and all educators like her are also to be commended, for if children are not engaged in the process of democracy they will grow up to be adults who can sit in the Senate Chambers and not feel pride in our democratic process. The people who sit in that chamber may be flawed, but the process itself is the best in the world. It means we live in a country where we are free to vote and participate firsthand in the ruling of a nation.

I look forward to the rest of the debates that will continue with fewer candidates as they are refined through the campaigning process. It is an exciting time and I will never be accused of being an uninformed voter. Thank you Mrs. Albee.

Mother’s Day in Afghanistan

Photo by Jodi Cobb

Photo by Jodi Cobb

For a man it is a dream to have a young teenage bride, a wife who is fresh like an apple, a girl whom he can play with, plan her dreams, her future, and her destiny as if she were a toy. But what is it like for the girl? The man who buys a young girl holds her future and destiny in his hands. She must do as he says. It is worse than slavery. – N, Afghan Women’s Writing Project 

One of the things I miss most in Afghanistan is being away from family on holidays, but some of my most memorable times there were on holidays. On Mother’s Day, 2010 I am at Bagram Air Base (BAF) waiting to go out on a mission to a battered woman’s shelter in Kohistan in Kapisa Province. There is a complication with the communication system between the MRAPS in the convoy so we are delayed about an hour. The team leader suggests we go grab some lunch while they fix the problem.

I go over and get in line at one of the dining halls to wait for the doors to open. I haven’t have any breakfast and I am really hungry, almost faint from low blood sugar. Low blood sugar levels can make you very irritable and I am getting more and more agitated as I listen to two large civilan men in line ahead of me. Every other word is the F-word, which I don’t like to hear. Normally I don’t say anything because sometimes obscenities are the way people deal with the stress of being in a war zone, but today it is getting on my nerves and after a particularly long string of “f—s”, I tap the man in front of me on his shoulder. He turns his beefy, tall frame around and looks at me with questioning eyes.

“It’s Mother’s Day,” I say, giving him a stern look.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” he says, ”I didn’t see you standing there.”

I just nod and go back to waiting. I am not only hungry but the sun is boiling hot and the heat is making me even more irritable. I hear some more “F” bombs behind me and I turn to see two young soldiers in conversation.

I say to one of them, “It’s Mother’s Day. Would your mother be proud to hear you talk that way in front of a woman?”

He looks a little stunned and says, “What did I say?”

I am scathing in my reply, then I just say “Oh, nevermind!” and I stomp off angrily.

When I get back to my convoy I am relating what happened to one of our guys. He looks at me, climbs inside a MRAP and comes back with a packet of grape jelly from an MRE. “Kathy, I think you need to eat this.”

After another 30 minutes our communications are fixed and we are ready to roll. We exit the base and start out on our long, bumpy ride to Kohistan. Along the way we pass by adobe homes that are right out of the Bible. I spot a man riding a camel in the distance and for an instant it is easy to imagine I am living 1000 years in the past, but a look around at the soldiers riding with me in a 1-million dollar armored vehicle dispel that fantasy.

We drive into Kohistan in the hot afternoon. Everything seems to be covered in a thin layer of red dust. We pass by men with pancaked-shaped hats called pakols and scarfs wrapped around their necks who stare at us curiously, a few with ill-concealed hate in their eyes. Children scamper along beside us laughing and asking for treats. We pull through the gate of the women’s compound that has a high wall surrounding it. After climbing down from the MRAP I stretch my cramped legs and look curiously about. I see a neat compound with a small vegetable garden and several buildings.

A regal looking woman wearing a turquoise blue salwar kameze and matching scarf wound round her head comes out to meet us. She introduces herself as Mrs. Kohistani, the center’s director. Except for our interpreter Dr. Najibullah, no men will be entering the shelter. She explains that many of the women have been abused and may be very shy about talking to strangers.

We make our way inside and I see some young girls and small children. I am thinking the mother’s must be in another room and I look around expecting Mrs. Kohistani to guide us to another area.

She is just standing there looking at us and it suddenly hits me. These young girls are the mothers. I am sick at heart as I look at these girls whose eyes are filled with fear, many holding infants in their arms and a few with a small child hiding in their skirts. The oldest one cannot be over 18. One 11-year old is visibly pregnant. We have brought some children’s books and we ask the mother’s if we may give them to the children. As we distribute them I take a moment with each mother to ask about her children. I show them pictures of my grandchildren. They are polite but there is a pervasive atmosphere of fear that I believe has nothing to do with our visit. The women cannot stay here forever and when they leave they know they at best will be beaten and they very likely will be disfigured or even killed.

As we leave the mothers we meet in Mrs. Kohistani’s office to talk about what we can do through our Female Enrichment Program to help the center. We talk about poultry and beekeeping projects that enable women to earn a living and to have food sources. As we finish our talk we linger over tea and Mrs. Kohistani relates to us that the day before two young sisters had come to the shelter to escape their abusive husbands. She had arranged for them to go into hiding in Pakistan. During the night, the families of the girl’s husband went to their mother’s home thinking the wives would be there. When they discovered they weren’t they killed their mother and disemboweled their 12 year-old sister. I am overwhelmed with emotion.

As we put our body armor back on in preparation to return to the base I am praying silently that these women will be able to find sanctuary that will remove them from the brutality to which they have been subjected. On the long journey the jocular banter we had exchanged over the radios on the journey there is missing. My earphones are silent as we all contemplate the horror we have seen today at the women’s shelter. As we near the base the soldier who gave me the grape jelly looked over at me and said, “Happy Mother’s Day, Miss Kathy”.

Copyright © 2015 Kathleen Gunderman

Circle of Life

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The nature of God is a circle of which the center is everywhere and the circumference is nowhere. Empedocles

Spring comes reluctantly to Northern Maine as the cold fingers of winter cling selfishly to the land before the relentless warmth of the sun forces her to retreat. Salmon Brook runs through our property and each spring, swelled with melted snow, it rushes with all the pent up energy of a horse long confined to a stall. It takes savage bites of the banks and seeks new territory to explore after its frozen winter imprisonment. It tumbles rocks and flings trees in its desire to flex its freedom and each year new channels are carved in its impatience to join up with bigger waters on their inevitable rush to the sea.

I eagerly await the moment when the snow melts enough for me to get to the brook’s edge to see what changes have been wrought by the spring runoff. Just across from where we have our firepit a small island splits the brook and some years the water cuts a channel towards the front of the island. These are the years that taking a nap in the hammock are accompanied by the giggling of the water as it tickles over the rocks nearby. Other years the brook jumps to the backside of the island and it creates a nice swimming hole to cool off in the hot summer months.

This week I decided to put on my waders and walk through the water to the island and try to determine if the brook has made up its mind which way it will go this year. I could see a new gravel bar along the side of the brook and uprooted trees were bridging another section. I thought about how life is like this brook. When we are young we are sure of our path and we rush headlong toward our goals. In our single minded need for success and happiness we fling obstacles out of our path without regard to where they will land. We don’t look back to see what damage we’ve done, focusing only on our efforts to reach our destinations.

As we progress in life some of the obstacles throw us into a different direction. Births, deaths, jobs, illnesses cut new channels into our path and take us into unplanned and uncharted territory. Just as the flow of the brook begins to slow as the summer months sap its strength and it can no longer manhandle boulders and impediments we begin to slow down as the years go by. We figure out that obstacles can be overcome by reason and ingenuity. As we tire we learn to value not the achievement at the end of our journey but the journey itself. We stop more often to enjoy the peace of the still pools and the beauty of the overhanging branches and wildflowers along the way.

As fall approaches the brook slows to a trickle, reluctant to rest on winter’s cold breast. As we approach our final destination we value each day more and more. And like the last of the summer wine, life becomes sweeter because it is the last leg of our journey. We remember with fondness when we galloped through life kicking up our heels with the sheer joy of living. We remember the boulders and limbs along the way that threatened to derail us and we marvel at our resilience to withstand the bruises and cuts they inflicted to emerge stronger and more assured.

As I near the last part of life’s journey I still have a kick or two left in me. I am no longer afraid to take a new path because experience has taught me that there is always something wonderful waiting round the bend. I don’t fret if I want to spend a day in contemplation and rest because those are the times when the deep pools can be explored and long hidden memories return and we embrace as old friends. Sometimes I wonder why we can’t have the insights we gather as we age when we have the exuberance of youth to enjoy them. But it is the journey of life that weaves all our joys, pain, laughter and tears together into the complete masterpiece God intended.  This knowledge reassures me that death is not to be feared, it is simply the end of the journey we embarked on the minute we drew our first breaths. When our journey is ended we will wake refreshed into the warm, loving arms of our Lord; reborn into the light, just as the brook wakes up each spring, for life is a never ending circle of birth and death, sleep and renewal.

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die;

A time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;

A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;

A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace. Ecclesiastes 3

Meet Naoto Matsumura, The Guardian of Fukushima’s Animals

Sharing this wonderful blog with my followers. This man is an angel.

Kindness Blog

Naoto Matsumura is the only human who now lives in Fukushima’s 12.5-mile radiation exclusion zone in Japan.

Naoto Matsumura, Guardian of Fukushima’s Animals

At first he fled the radation-riddle area, but he returned soon after to feed his animals.

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Matsumura then realized that there were thousands of other creatures that needed to be fed, as well. The 55-year-old says he knows the radiation levels are dangerous but refuses to worry about it.

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“They told me that I wouldn’t get sick for 30 years. I’ll most likely be dead by then anyway, so I couldn’t care less,” he said.

When he first returned, he saw that thousands of cows had died after being locked up in barns. He freed the creatures that had been left tied up by their owners and takes care of all of them.

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Today, most of the creatures rely on him for food, and he works entirely on the support of donations and…

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King Abdullah II – A Man Not to be Trifled With

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Nobody scares me. – King Abdallah II of Jordan

When news broke that ISIS had brutally burned downed Jordanian pilot, Mouath al-Kasaesbeh, alive, King Abdullah II of Jordan was visiting in Washington, DC. He was reported to be so angered he quoted Clint Eastwood’s character in the movie Unforgiven , “I’m going to kill his wife and all his friends and burn his damn house down.” He said, “There is going to be retribution like ISIS hasn’t seen”, vowing to his people that “our response will be on the level of disaster.” king abdullah2

King Abdullah had been trying to negotiate the release of Kasaesbeh but ISIS was demanding the release of convicted terrorist Sajida al-Rishawi who was sentenced to death for her role in a 2005 suicide bomb attack that killed 60 people. After learning of the inhuman killing of Kasaesbeh, Abdullah’s s first action was to have her publicly hanged along with another al Qaida operative convicted of murder.  Then he went to the home of the murdered pilot, personally consoled the family, and promised them he would avenge their son for his sacrifice.

Initial reports out of Jordan claimed that when the first flights of  F-16 attack aircraft streaked over the skies of ISIS’s capital that night dropping a barrage of bombs on ISIS targets, King Abdullah II was flying the lead aircraft.  Jordan has officially denied this, but many think it is true given the release of a photo showing him dressed in full military gear with an “I’m mad as hell” expression shortly before the strikes. On the way back to base, the squadron flew a Missing Man Formation over the home of the pilot’s family.

King Abdullah II is more than capable of carrying out such an attack. At 53 years of age he has spent 35 years of his life in the military.  He’s a trained Cobra attack helicopter pilot, an armored warfare tank commander, a graduate of the British Military Academy, and the founder of Jordan’s Special Operations Command unit of elite counter-terrorism commandos.  He’s performed hundreds of drops as a front-line paratrooper.

He graduated the UK Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, served as a Second Lieutenant of the 13/18th Royal Hussars Cavalry Regiment in Northern Ireland, flew Cobra helicopters in North Africa, became a Lieutenant Colonel in the Jordanian Third Armored Division, and then ultimately was appointed Commanding Officer of the Jordanian Special Forces in 1993.  Abdullah’s forward-thinking policies and commitment to “quality over quantity” led him to completely reorganize the unit into a unit that is now universally recognized as the most over-the-top hardcore special operations unit the Arab countries have to offer.  These guys are trained in counter-terrorism, reconnaissance, interrogation, and close-quarter combat in urban environments, can deploy anywhere in the Middle East at a moment’s notice, spend their summers in the USA training with Rangers and SEALs, and operate deep behind enemy lines for extended periods with little to no support.  They are also believed to have agents who have infiltrated at all levels at ISIS.King Abdullah5

So when King Abdullah II of Jordan says he’s going to “open the gates of Hell on them,” this is what he’s working with.  He has vowed to fight ISIS until “we run out of fuel and bullets.”

Besides being a formidable warrior King Abdullah is an impressive figure. His wife, Queen Rania looks like a supermodel and is a progressive leader in her own right. Four beautiful children round out their family. Since taking over as king in 1999 he’s done a lot of work to grant freedom to the media, improve the economy, advance women’s rights, and build peaceful political relations with Israel.  He has kept his country together despite war and revolution all around him.  He is member of the Hashemite Dynasty, the traditional guardians of Mecca and Medina  and has been  genetically confirmed as a 41st-level direct descendent of the Prophet Muhammad.  In 2004 he gave the Amman Message, a speech he issued after he organized a convention for 200 Muslim clerics (both Sunni and Shia) from over 50 countries.  He told his fellow Muslims they should strive for compassion, mutual respect, tolerance, acceptance and stop declaring jihad on everyone they perceive to be infidels.

King Abdullah is the epitome of a life well-lived. He once rode a Harley across California and drives a variety of awesome muscle cars and motorcycles. The most amazing bit of trivia is that he once appeared in a Star Trek: Voyager episode. His U.S. advisor arranged a surprise visit to the set for a cameo role as a non-credited extra as a human science officer. The then 34-year old Abdullah enthused, “I would have been thrilled just to visit the set but this is too much.” He is a majority owner of a Star Trek theme park in the Jordan city Aqaba that will open in 2017. King-Abdullah3

Abdullah collects ancient military weaponry, takes princesses skydiving in his spare time, has won a couple of international Rally Car races and is an author. The most endearing quality of this warrior king with a chest full of well-deserved medals is his unpretentiousness. In a time when world leaders demand to be treated like royalty, this true royal drives his own cars instead of using a chauffeur. In 2013, during a rare Middle East cold snap in Amman he helped push a car stuck in deep snow on a street.

King Abdullah II stands as a leader that most countries long for; strong, ready to fight for his country and someone whose actions back up his rhetoric. He looks to the future and moves his country forward to a more progressive nation. Yet he is a man of compassion who truly cares for humanity. Jordan is not perfect and has a way to go before it is a country where women have equal rights, but it is rated number one in 19 Arab countries in democratic reforms.

As an American, I look to his example of bravery and resolve and wish we had the same leadership. We have a president who was elected on words of hope and change, and while I admit we have changed as a country under his leadership, it has not been for the better. Our leadership branch is rife with bipartisanship that hobbles any meaningful progression for us as a nation. The current administration’s hesitant foreign policy has left us ridiculed and weak in the world’s eyes. We don’t need or want a king, but we do crave leadership, something we haven’t had in a long time.

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Washington DC – The Nation’s City

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Washington, D.C. has everything that Rome, Paris and London have in the way of great architecture – great power bases. Washington has obelisks and pyramids and underground tunnels and great art and a whole shadow world that we really don’t see. – Dan Brown, author

When I began my series on places I’ve lived I said that I was not going to touch on the negative things but only highlight the positive. I have struggled to keep to that in describing my time living in our nation’s capital. Washington, DC is a vibrant city, so steeped in the history of our country that is impossible to go a day without having a sense of pride well up in your heart. It is a beautiful city, particularly when the cherry trees are in bloom. On the other hand it has the blights all large cities share –crime, excessive traffic and a sense of impersonality among the hurrying throngs that crowd the streets.

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I have come to the conclusion that for me there are two DCs. One is the city to visit and one is the city in which to work. It is an exciting city that holds our nation’s greatest institutions; the Capital, White House, Supreme Court, Library of Congress. Then there are the tributes in the National Mall that pay homage to our political greats; the serene face of Lincoln as he looks down upon the people, Washington’s monument, that iconic monolith so prominent in the DC skyline. The most touching for me are the tributes to our military. Who can stand in front of the Vietnam Memorial Wall and not feel you are on hallowed ground as you see the offerings of flags, flowers, pictures and letters left in memorandum at the base of the black gabbro wall? The portrayal of the marines raising the American flag that stands at the entrance to Arlington Cemetery never ceases to fill me with pride. Walking among the thousands of graves at the cemetery is a solemn and humbling experience. I am saddened to see so many people who served our country lying in their final rest; the eternal flame that burns on President Kennedy’s grave, the neat rows of tombstones marching across the rolling green hills.

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I encourage everyone to visit our nation’s capital at least once. You will never be able to see everything in a visit, but you will still get a flavor of what our country stands for. I remember standing on the marble steps of the Capital Building and noticing the worn places where millions of feet have walked up into the seat of our legislative branch. It symbolized to me that it is the people of America who determine our nation’s direction, not a selected few.

I enjoyed the museums in Washington. I visited the National Gallery and I was amazed at how close you can come to art that you have previously only seen in print. You are allowed room to examine and marvel at the artist’s talent, but ever-watchful guards will intervene if you cross the invisible line from observation into too close for comfort. Once, when I walked into one gallery I saw a favorite portrait of Vincent van Gogh and I got cold chills. I walked across the room almost in a trance to stand reverently in front of the painting. This is why art is important. It moves us beyond ourselves and evokes emotions straight from our souls.

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There are so many museums and galleries in DC that I can’t possible name them all. There’s the National Zoo, the Botanical Gardens, the Smithsonian, the Air and Space Museum, the Holocaust Museum—all free, because they belong to us. They are our national treasures, our history.

Living and working in Washington is different than being a tourist. Like any hardworking employees, when the weekend came, I usually didn’t want to go anywhere. But I did make the occasional excursion and I was never disappointed. Traveling around in DC is easy with the Metro and the bus lines and is much preferable to trying to drive the crowded streets.

I volunteered in the summer of 2009 at the C&O Canal Historical National Historic Park, a 184.5 mile length of canal that once served as a lifeline for transporting coal, lumber and agricultural products. I worked at a site located in Foggy Bottom and I was a mule tender. I couldn’t believe that a country girl could find a job working with mules in the midst of a bustling city. Three times a day on the weekends, I served as the back mule tender for mule-drawn canal boat rides. Dressed in 1870’s period clothing that included a long dress, apron, bonnet, bloomers and steel-toes boots for safety, I would use a long pole to push the boat away from the dock. As we passed under a bridge into a lock I had to leap onto the side and grab hold of a wooden ladder and scrabble up to go around and  get my mule ready as the lock filled. When my mule was fully harnessed I would lead it behind the front mule and as the boat came through the lock we would hitch them up and walk them at a leisurely gait down the canal as park interpreters gave the passengers historical information about life on the canal.

C&O Canal

On the last run of the day I would take a wheelbarrow and shovel and wait for the mules and the boat to start its return to the park. I would follow along on the trail and scoop up all the horse droppings to keep the trail tidy. One day a woman asked me what I had put on my resume to get a job like this. I loved my volunteer work at the canal. I met so many people from all over the world. Most of our mules had come from abusive situations and I was able to bring them up for the children to pet and interact with as I explained how important it was to be kind to animals. It was exhausting work and I regularly snacked on Advil, but I would come home filled with a sense of having done good work.

Living in Washington was not a good fit for a country girl. It challenged me to be aware of my surroundings, to be vigilant and how to be resourceful. I grew there as a person, but I knew my time there would be short-lived. Ten months into living there I was offered the opportunity to serve my country in a different way as an agricultural advisor for the USDA in Afghanistan. From that point on my life would be irrevocably changed.

I would love to go to Washington, DC again and again to visit favorite haunts and discover new ones. It is a place where you can be inspired and proud to be an American. It is the culmination of all the best and worst of America packed into one pulsating city where every street brings a new adventure. Go and be prepared to be amazed.

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I Will Do No Harm

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Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Yesterday as I watched the death toll rise to over 4,400 from the 7.8 earthquake that rocked Nepal, Tibet, Bangladesh and India, my heart was so heavy. Over a million people are desperate for food and shelter in the aftermath. I thought about the Nepalese Gurkha guards that protected us at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. Their gentle, sweet smiles welcomed me every day as I passed through security points. I also saw them when we were under threat and they instantly went into the warrior mode they are famous for. Willing to lay down their lives to protect us, they made me feel as safe as I could be in the war-torn country of Afghanistan.

Then images of looting and physical violence in Baltimore raised my anxiety level. To someone with PTSD, these scenes bring on flashbacks, increase the startle reflex and entice nightmares to creep into fitful sleep. Every time I heard a loud noise I would jump. Even my allergies got worse and I had to use my inhaler several times.

Stories of political misconduct and conflicts around the world also filled the news. Around the globe, I saw atrocities, persecution of Christians, poverty and disease. I watched as hundreds of refugees fleeing the spread of terrorist groups in Africa drowned when their overloaded boats capsized.

I was so overwhelmed with all this devastation and violence that I just wanted to go to my camp and retreat from the world—forever. I can so understand the desire of disenfranchised people to go live in the woods in a little shack, far away from the world and the people who live in it. I was there.

Then an amazing thing happened. On Fox news a feature on peaceful protesters walking down the street singing “I will do no harm to anyone until the day I die.” I was riveted as I watched the dignity and calmness of these people as they walked down the street. Over 10,000 people participated in nonviolent protests. I watched over 100 religious leaders walk arm in arm – Catholics, Protestants, Muslim and Jewish—all united to face the violence with prayer. Tears welled in my eyes as I watched them kneel in the street to pray as one. As they continued to march their numbers swelled as others joined them, even some of the looters stopping to walk with them. I saw reports of members of the community boarding up business and trying to protect what was left from the rioters. I saw an elderly Vietnam veteran who stood up to rioters and backed them down.

This is the news I needed to see. This is the goodness and the best of people that reminds me that courage and faith will always prevail in the fight against evil. This is the hope of humanity. It balances the violence and devastation that the media likes to highlight. I have to believe that heroes will always stand up and face down evil. Everyday people that became extraordinary in the face of adversity. I realized I cannot go hide in the woods and isolate myself from the world. I can’t save the world but I can try to make my little corner of the world better. That is all I can do and maybe, that is enough.

Night Terror

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Only the unknown frightens men. But once a man has faced the unknown, that terror becomes the known. – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Run, just keep running. I can’t breathe, my side is hurting and my heart is beating out of my chest. I know if I stop, I will be killed and no one will know where I am. He is behind me. I can hear his footsteps running in the leaves and if I slow down he will be on me. Can I hide? I don’t see anywhere. There’s a big rock. No that’s too obvious. He can come around and see me and I will be helpless. I will die. I don’t want to die.

There’s an old house in the woods ahead. If I can make it there maybe I can lock myself in. It hurts so much to breathe. My lungs are burning. There it is! God, please let me make it inside. Be careful, the steps might fall in and I will be caught. Run across the porch into the door. Slam it shut and lock it. The lock is old. I hope it holds.

Check the windows and turn the locks on top. This one is rusty and hard to turn. I know he is outside. Panic. Please turn. Finally! Now check the back door. It doesn’t have a lock! The screen door has one. Pull the screen closed and latch the hook in the eye. Drag over that desk and put it up against the door.

Did I check everything? Go room by room and recheck the windows and doors. Heart pounding. Am I safe? I am so scared. I think I have the house secured. Breathe. Breathe. Turn around and see if there is a phone to call for help. He’s standing there, his big belly stretching a faded old red shirt out over the top of his jeans. His unkempt red hair curls onto his shoulder. He is holding a gun pointed at me. He looks at me and says, “And there ain’t nothing you can do about it.”

Wake up! Wake up. My eyes snap open. My breath is coming fast. I am drenched in sweat. My body is shaking with fear. It was a dream. Just a dream. Slow my breathing. In out, in out. Tears roll down my face. Too afraid to go back to sleep now. Look out the window at the moon. It is big, round and hopeful. Just focus on the light. Lose yourself in the light.

Copyright © 2015 Kathleen Gunderman

June Bug Summer

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And yet day and night meet fleetingly at twilight and dawn and their merging sometimes affords the beholder the most enchanted moments of all the twenty-four hours. – Mary Balogh

Summer evenings growing up in the South were imbued with an enchantment  that is lost when children stop playing hide and seek and tag; before the world reaches out and places demands on their dreams and the fleeting freeness of childhood slips away like vapor in the hot morning sun.

While I might have played all day, stopping every now and then to eat and help my mother with washing or gardening, it is night that the real fun begins. The shadows become playmates as my sister and I hide from each other in secret places that only exist in the twilight. Tree frogs, cicadas and crickets each sing with their unique timbre in concert with the persistent call of the whippoorwills, “whip OR will, whip OR will, whip OR will”; the resulting cacophony sounding like an orchestra tuning individual instruments before merging together to create the ever-changing song of nature. Sometimes I imitate the lonesome call of the Bob white quail, whistling “Bob white” with a lilt at the end of the white and soon I receive an answer from a hopeful suitor and we call back to each other for a while. When I stop he calls a few more times before his plaintive calls abruptly stop and he beds down for the night alone and disappointed.

The daring moths, drawn to the glow of the bare-bulb light on the porch, fling themselves on the hot glass and fall mortally wounded on the planks below. The more timid moths satisfy their craving for light by clinging to the screen door with their tiny stick feet, looking at the inside lights like sinners outside the Pearly Gates, condemned to only experience the warmth of the celestial luminescence from afar.

In spite of all the noise from the nighttime serenade, there is stillness to the evening that is a feeling more than a reality. It is the time when belief in fairies and elves seems possible and each shadow quivers, not from something fearsome, but something wonderful that just might come to out to dance with us in the moonlight if the magic is strong enough.

Glossy green June bugs dive bomb our heads and if we hold out our hands sometimes they land, surprising agile in spite of their chunky bodies. They fold their veiny parchment wings underneath their hard iridescent shells and explore, sometimes tickling us as they suck the salty sweat from our palms. Finding no other delights they open their wings and buzz off into the night and vanish like fighter pilots on solitary missions into the unknown.

As the night matures the darkness is punctuated with the bright yellow phosphorescent glow of lightning bugs, blinking off and on, tempting us to catch and contain them in clear Mason jars with lids that mother punched holes in with a hammer and nail so their temporary prison is confining but livable.  On moonless nights we turn the porch light off so the only light that pushes back the dark is the pulsating eerie yellow glow from our captive torchbearers. Having shared the gift of light with us we release them to spread their wonderfulness over our farm as all creatures great and small breathe in the last of the summer magic and sleepily close our eyes to welcome the forgiving arms of our dreams.

Copyright © 2015 Kathleen Gunderman

Daniel Inoye – Nobody Called Off the War

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“My father just looked straight ahead, and I looked straight ahead, and then he cleared his throat and said, ‘America has been good to us. It has given me two jobs. It has given you and your sisters and brothers education. We all love this country. Whatever you do, do not dishonor your country. Remember – never dishonor your family. And if you must give your life, do so with honor.’ I knew exactly what he meant. I said, ‘Yes, sir. Good-bye.” – Daniel Inouye

Many may remember Daniel  Inouye, the late Senator from Hawaii, and wondered how he lost his right arm. What follows is an extraordinary account of courage under fire and dedication to country.

Inouye was born in Honolulu, Hawaii while Hawaii was still a territorial possession of the United States. Political life on the islands was dominated by the white business community, particularly the sugar companies. Although the Inouye family placed a strong emphasis on education as the route to success, that route led through a school system where opportunities for Asian American students were severely limited.

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In high school Inouye volunteered at the Red Cross Aid Station having decided he would pursue a career in medicine. He was 17 when Japan attacked the U.S. naval base at nearby Pearl Harbor, and as a medical aide, he was among the first to treat the wounded. Even though Japanese Americans on the mainland were being interned by the U.S. government as potential security risks, Daniel Inouye and his peers were eager to serve their country. At first the War department classified the Nisei (American-born children of Japanese immigrants) as “enemy aliens” unfit for service. But after Inouye and others petitioned the White House, the Army accepted Japanese American men for service in segregated units. By this time, Inouye was enrolled in pre-medical studies at the University of Hawaii. As a pre-med student and an aid station worker, he was exempt from military service, but he quit his job and dropped out of school to join the all-Nisei 442nd Regimental Combat Team.

Inouye distinguished himself in basic training, although he struggled to reconcile the violence of war with his Christian beliefs. Within his first year he was promoted to sergeant and became a platoon leader.  He served in Italy in 1944 during the Rome-Arno Campaign before his regiment was transferred to the Vosges Mountains region of France where he spent two weeks in the battle to relieve the “Lost Battalion”, a Texas battalion of the 141st Infantry Regiment that was surrounded by German forces. Inouye was shocked to learn how quickly he became accustomed to killing enemy soldiers no older than himself. “That’s one of the horrors of war, that you can train a person, train them to hate, train them to kill.” He was promoted to second lieutenant for his actions there. At one point while he was leading an attack, a shot struck him in the chest directly above his heart, but the bullet was stopped by  two silver dollars he happened to have stacked in his shirt pocket. He continued to carry the coins throughout the war in his shirt pocket as good luck charms, until he lost them shortly before the battle in which he lost his arm.

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On April 21, 1945, Inouye was grievously wounded while leading an assault on a heavily defended ridge near San Terenzo in Tuscany, Italy. The ridge served as a strongpoint for the last and most unyielding line of German defensive fortification in Italy. As he led his platoon in a flanking maneuver, three German machine guns opened fire from covered positions 40 yards away, pinning his men to the ground. Inouye stood up to attack and was shot in the stomach. Ignoring his wound, he proceeded to attack and destroy the first machine gun nest with hand grenades and his Thompson submachine gun. When informed of the severity of his wound, he refused treatment and rallied his men for an attack on the second machine gun position, which he successfully destroyed before collapsing from blood loss.

As his squad distracted the third machine gunner, Inouye crawled toward the final bunker, coming within 10 yards. As he raised himself up and cocked his arm to throw his last grenade, a German soldier inside the bunker fired a rifle grenade, which struck his right elbow, nearly severing most of his arm and leaving his primed grenade reflexively “clenched in a fist that suddenly didn’t belong to me anymore“. Inouye’s horrified soldiers moved to his aid, but he shouted for them to keep back out of fear his severed fist would involuntarily relax and drop the grenade. While the German inside the bunker reloaded his rifle, Inouye pried the live grenade from his useless right hand and transferred it to his left. As the enemy soldier aimed his rifle at him, Inouye tossed the grenade into the bunker and destroyed it. He stumbled to his feet and continued forward, silencing the last German resistance with a one-handed burst from his Thompson before being wounded in the leg and tumbling unconscious to the bottom of the ridge. He awoke to see the worried men of his platoon hovering over him. His only comment before being carried away was to order them back to their positions, saying “nobody called off the war!”

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The remainder of Inouye’s mutilated right arm was later amputated at a field hospital without proper anesthesia, as he had been given too much morphine at an aid station and it was feared any more would lower his blood pressure enough to kill him. Although Inouye  lost his right arm, he remained in the military until 1947 and was honorably discharged with the rank of captain. At the time of his leaving the Army he was a recipient of the Bronze Star Medal and the Purple Heart. Inouye was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his bravery in this action. At the time, it was clear that Inouye’s exploits, and those of other members of the 442nd, merited the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military decoration, but no Asian American received the award at war’s end. On his return to the States, Inouye and other minority veterans were subjected to much of the same discrimination they had met before the war. Inouye committed himself to the cause of equal rights for all Americans, and for all residents of Hawaii as fully enfranchised American citizens. In 2000 his Distinguished Service Cross was upgraded to the Medal of Honor by President Bill Clinton.

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While recovering at Percy Jones Army Hospital from war wounds and the amputation of his right forearm, Inouye met future Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole, then a fellow patient and they remained lifelong friends. While at the same hospital, Inouye also met future fellow Democrat and Senator Philip Hart, who had been injured on D-Day. Dole mentioned to Inouye that after the war, he planned to go to Congress; Inouye beat him there by a few years.

The loss of his right arm had ended Inouye’s dream of being a surgeon, so when he returned to the University of Hawaii he pursued studies in government and economics and entered George Washington University Law School in Washington, D.C., receiving his law degree.

Returning to Hawaii, he took up the practice of law and then served as Deputy Public Prosecutor for the City of Honolulu.  In 1958 he was elected to the territory’s Senate.  With statehood imminent, Inouye was elected to serve as Hawaii’s first U.S. Representative; he took his seat in Congress on August 21, 1959, the day Hawaii became a state.

In 1962 Inouye was elected to the U.S. Senate where he served until 2012. In 2009, Senator Inouye was appointed to chair the Senate Committee on Appropriations, widely considered the most powerful of senate committee assignments. The following year, he was elected to his ninth term in the United States Senate. With the death of Senator Byrd in 2010, Inouye became the Senate’s senior member, and in keeping with Senate tradition was named President Pro Tempore of the Senate. This placed Senator Inouye third in line of succession to the presidency, following the Vice President and the Speaker of the House. The grandson of immigrant plantation workers, the young man who had been barred from service as an “enemy alien,” had won his nation’s highest honors and risen to the heights of political power.

Sen. Daniel Inouye died in 2012 at the age of 88, leaving behind a legacy of service, duty and courage. His office reported that his last word was “Aloha.” After his death, Daniel Inouye, who had already received the nation’s premier military decoration, was awarded its highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

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