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Posts Tagged ‘remembrance’

-Blog post by Reed Sandridge of Washington, D.C.

Lenora "Ann" Reed Sandridge 10/17/43-12/15/06

My mother, Lenora “Ann” Reed Sandridge, was born in the sleepy coal miner town of Richlands, Virginia 68 years ago today. She died nearly five years ago yet the pain and emptiness that I felt at the time of her death remains more or less unchanged today. I’ve heard some people say that “it gets easier.” I am not sure about that. I know she is not coming back, but sometimes I feel as if she has just been separated from us for a short while and somehow she will be waiting for me the next time I walk through the doors of my parents’ house in Pennsylvania where my father still lives.

If you knew my mother you will understand why today’s blog post is appropriately posted on her birthday.

Last week I reconnected with a friend I had met in Colombia last year. We met after work at the Whole Foods across fromGeorgeWashingtonUniversity’s campus where she is now pursuing post-graduate work. We drank coffee while catching up on each others lives; the conversation occasionally interrupted by passersby ducking inside to take refuge from the monsoon-like rain storm.

The rain stopped and we parted ways. As I headed up 22nd Street toward my neighborhood I saw a woman on the side of the road crouched down on the wet asphalt in front of her car trying to position a jack under the front left bumper. I asked if she needed help and she let out a sigh of relief, “Yes!”

I sat my bag in the wet grass, rolled up my dress shirt and moved the jack around to the side of the car and found a solid piece of the frame to position it under. A few short minutes later the tire was fully suspended off the ground and I grabbed the tire iron and muscled the stubborn lug nuts counter-clockwise. About then a couple of young guys, probably university students, stopped and offered to help too. We quickly got the spare on and sent her two blocks down the street to get some additional air in her temporary tire.

“Thank you so much, you don’t know how much this means to me,” she said reaching for her purse that sat on the empty driver’s seat. “Let me give you all something for your time.”

We all refused the money – I mean, we just did what every decent person should do. Volunteering my time to help her out was well worth the small inconvenience of arriving late, and covered with grease, to meet up with some work colleagues for a beer.

It was this kind of generosity and kindness that my mother embraced so strongly; probably the result of growing up in a town where you helped your neighbor, shared your harvest and brought dinner over to the grieving widower. These weren’t things that my mother ever sat me down and taught. She didn’t have to, they were part of her and she taught by example. Somehow I find comfort knowing that her lessons still live vividly inside me after all this time. I love you Mom!

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-Blog post by Reed Sandridge from Washington, DC

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The Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall to the left reflects the trees that surround the memorial. (photo: Reed Sandridge)

Not even 15 minutes after the sun crested the horizon this past Saturday morning, 20 members of the Montgomery County Chapter 641 of the Vietnam Veterans of America grabbed buckets and brushes and walked down the stone pathway toward one of the most iconic memorials in the United States: The Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

“It started out I guess between 14 and 16 years ago,” Art Wong, who served in Vietnam from 1967 to 1968, told me.  I later discovered that it’s actually been 17 years since he and Mike Najarian, both of  Silver Spring, MD, started making the early morning pilgrimage on the first Saturday of every month between April and October to wash away the grime and dirt that builds up on the 58,261 names engraved on the black granite memorial.

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Photo: Reed Sandridge

“The Wall,” as it is often referred to, consists of nearly 500 feet of black granite from Bangalore, India.  Carved out of the shadowy stone are the names of all military men, and eight military women, who lost their lives (or went missing) as a direct result of military wounds suffered during the Vietnam war.  The sheer volume of names is breathtaking.  An emotional place for many Americans, it is a place that I encourage everyone who comes to DC to visit and pay their respects.

Art was the first person I spoke to when I arrived.  He was kind enough to take a few minutes and let me interview him.  Click below to hear Art’s story as well as see the washing of the wall in the background.

“Wait a minute, don’t wash that section just yet,” Bill Gray, a silver star recipient, said as we washed the grime out of the crevices of the fallen soldiers’ names.  He pulled out a small camera and took a photograph of the name of a guy he served with.  “You can see a perfect handprint touching his name,” he said as he steadied his camera and captured what a loved one had left behind.  He paused and turned to me, “I’ve got six buddies up here.”

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Soap suds slide down some of the 58,261 names that live on the wall. (photo: Reed Sandridge)

The sound of brushes scrubbing back and forth, water hammering against the dark granite and conversations soft enough to be held in church were the only sounds.  The reflection of the mirror-like wall overflows into my mind and I find myself reflecting on those who lost their lives half a century ago.  How old were they?  Where were they from?  How sad their parents, siblings, spouses, children and friends must have been when they heard the news?  How many dreams were washed away as quickly as the soapy water that ran down over the names in front of me?

What impressed me the most about these men, and yes they were all men with the exception of my friend Patricia who also pulled herself out of bed at 0’dark thirty to come volunteer, was how friendly they were.  As we wrapped up our work a few early rising tourists made their way to the memorial.  There was no shortage of hellos, good mornings and respectful nods showering the visitors.

A pair of combat boots pinned with the Purple Heart sits in front of The Wall. (photo: SC Fiasco)

Although it was never spoken, it was clear that this monthly ritual was somehow comforting for the men.  Old friends, both present and in spirit, come together each month to pay their respects and share memories, laughter and tears.  Part of a poem written by Guy L. Jones, 43d Signal Battalion, Pleik Oct. 1968 – Nov. 1969, helps explain this:

A visit to the “THE WALL” will be many things to many people
But to me it has healed my soul
And made me feel proud to have been there.

I will be back on October 16th to lead a group of volunteers in cleaning the Korean Memorial.  If you would like to help out, drop me an email.

UPDATE: I found this MSNBC story about the men mentioned in this blog post…enjoy!

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Mothers Day

Blog post by Reed from Washington, DC

Lenora "Ann" Reed Sandridge 10/17/43-12/15/06

A couple of days ago I sat down to brainstorm about the subject of my blog post for today.  As I have been focusing on volunteering with my posts, I thought I would highlight a national nonprofit that gave opportunities for mothers to volunteer.  To my surprise, I couldn’t find such an organization with the exception of very focused groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving.  Then I thought I would focus on organizations that helped mothers.  I found lots of groups that help pregnant moms, new mothers, single parent mothers, etc.  But somehow I wasn’t finding anything that really grabbed me.

So I decided to dedicate today’s blog to my own mother who was one of my inspirations in creating the Year of Giving.

Born Lenora Ann Reed in 1943, my mother grew up in the sleepy coal-mining town of Richlands, Virginia.  It’s a beautiful part of the country.  I can remember driving down Route 460 as a child, well I wasn’t driving, but I was in the car, and seeing the breathtaking vistas of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

My mother's childhood house and shed. The outhouse she used is long gone, but it still looks more or less the same structurally - except the deck. (Photo: Reed)

The house she grew up in still stands on a steep slope overlooking the town.  Today nearly 6,000 people live in Richlands compared to about 4,800 when my mother was a child.  Not too much has changed in my mind.  The King Kone ice cream and hot dog stand still gets people lined up two or three deep.  Mom used to love their chili dogs.  I went back last year with my dad and got one.  They must have been better back in the day.

Graduation from Richlands High School, 1960

Mom graduated from Richlands High School in 1960.  She followed the footsteps of her older sisters and went to nursing school, however, nursing wasn’t for her and she ended up working for the federal government in Washington, DC.

She was living with my uncle Jack on the fourth floor of a crimson colored brick apartment complex in Arlington,VA. The place is still there today in fact.  In the summer of 1962 my dad was moving in across the hall.  “There were some girls who were whistling and giggling at me as I was carrying things in,” he told me smiling.  “They kept hiding though when I would try to see who it was.”  Well, the rest is history as they say.

Jerry and Lenora were married on January 23, 1964.  They packed up the car and drove to California, sold everything except what they could carry in some suitcases and started out on a trip around the world.  The first stop was Honolulu.  They figured they would work for a while there until they had enough money to move on to the South Pacific.  They never made it any further and five years later left the tropical paradise of Don Ho and moved to California where my brother and I were born.

My mother and brother playing with my Uncle Jack's dog Spike in 1973. (photo: Reed)

The next 20 years were spent raising us kids.  Although we had a baby sitter when we would get home from school, they rarely left us with a sitter to go out to dinner or those kinds of things.  They completely put their social lives on hold in order to spend time with us.  Our house was full of love and laughter and a few screams of my brother and me fighting.

Mom was extremely generous.  We didn’t have much money to give, but she was always thinking of others before herself.  She searched voraciously to find the perfect card to send to her friends and family.  She wrote beautiful kind letters.  She led by example; instilling in my brother and me virtues of kindness, sympathy and honesty.

When I was 16 I was selected to be a Rotary Youth Exchange Student and went to Guasave, Mexico for my 11th grade year of high school.  On the eve of my flight, we sat in a hotel outside of Baltimore, MD fearing the unknown of a year apart.  Tears were flowing and my mother took me for a short walk outside our hotel.  She told me something that I will never forget.

My brother Ryan, Mom, Dad, Me in Ireland

“All my life I have worked to help you become independent.  You’ve grown up so much and are setting out to write a new chapter of your life.  We shouldn’t be crying; we should be celebrating.  This is what your father and I have dreamed of ever since you were born is to see you mature and develop into your own person.”

I think we both knew that I still had a lot of growing up to do but as always she had a way with words to make the pain or the sadness go away.  I must have received at least 100 letters from her during my 11 months in Mexico.

Mom died on the morning of December 15th, 2006 from some complications from a by-pass surgery she underwent a few days earlier.  She had battled heart disease for more than two decades since having her first heart attack days before Christmas in 1984.  It’s somehow ironic that someone with such a big and loving heart would die of heart related illness.

Me and mom in Rio de Janeiro in 2003.

Today I remember her.  I remember her smile, her laughter, her listening, her dancing with my dad in the kitchen, her gentle touch, her love of books, her love for family, her fondness for her work and coworkers and most of all her hugs.  I celebrate her life and the beauty she brought to the lives of so many others.

If you are able to spend the day with your mother, make sure you tell her that you love her and appreciate all that she has done for you.  Hug her and hold her an extra moment while you remember all of those who have lost their mothers.

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Today marks the first day of giving for our newest Kindness Investor from Seattle: Petra.   I spoke to another future Kindness Investor earlier this week.  His name is Michael B. from Connecticut and he will start his week of kindness investing on January 5th.  Slowly I am getting people to join this movement; a seven-day, seventy dollar investment that has the power to change an unemployed person’s perspective on life through kindness.  If you or someone you know are out of work and want an opportunity of a lifetime, drop me a line.

Today’s recipient is one whose story touched me tremendously.  I was in Manassas, VA visiting my good friends Thomas and Tressa.  It was their beautiful baby girl Tegan’s first birthday.  Well, I guess she already had a birthday last year…a real birth day…anyway she turned one!  While I was there I met a friend of theirs named Jen who teaches at the same school where Tressa teaches.  I decided to give her my $10.

Our conversation was quite typical at first.  We talked about her job as a high school biology teacher.  I learned about her experience volunteering in Ghana with an ophthalmologist.  “I did eye exams and distributed glasses to local communities,” she explained.  “It completely inspired me!”  It inspired her to pursue other dreams and that is why next year this 30-year-old Pittston, PA native will leave her lesson plans on photosynthesis and Mendel’s heredity research for a new career in medicine.

It’s not a surprise that Jen is going back to school when you learn that she is the faculty member that overseas homecoming, student council, prom, quiz team, etc.  Yep, she’s definitely an overachiever.  My friends tell me that she is a karaoke wiz too!  “I know the lyrics to just about any song from the late 80s and early 90s,” she says beaming.

Then I asked a question that completely changed our carefree conversation, “Are you married, do you have kids?” I asked.  There was a brief silence and she responded that she was a widow.  I offered my condolences and she explained that her husband, Army 1st Lt. Todd J. Bryant, was killed on October 31st of 2003 in Fallujah, Iraq when an improvised explosive device (IED) hit his Humvee.  The 23-year-old was assigned to Company C, 1st Battalion, 34th Armor Regiment, 1st Infantry Division at Fort Riley, Kansas.  A graduate of West Point Military Academy, Todd’s death came just 52 days after being deployed or as Jen put it to a journalist once, “55 letters later.”  “And we were married just ten days before he deployed,” she told me managing to keep her composure.

She shared with me the moment that she learned the news.  “I was teaching at my school,” she began to say, “when I was visited by an Army general and chaplain…”

I was speechless.  I just wanted to give her a big hug.  In a matter of minutes I felt like I knew Jen for years rather than the handful of minutes we had actually spent talking to each other.  And although I never met Todd, I can assure you that he was nothing less than extraordinary.

I have to be honest I couldn’t stop thinking about Todd when I got home later that evening.  I had so many questions and turned to the Internet to find out more.  He quickly becomes more than a casualty of war but a bright young man who liked In-n-Out burgers and making people laugh, who dreamed of raising a family with his soul mate and pursuing a career in government where he could effect real change in our country.  He was a husband, a son, a brother and a friend.  He would have been my friend.

There were also comments from those who never knew Todd but reached out to pay their respects to a family that understood the meaning of  service.  Todd’s parents were former military officers and his brother Tim is currently a Lt. Col in the U.S. Marine Corps serving in the Marine Expeditionary Unit  and sister Tiffany, a 2000 graduate of West Point herself, served as a Captain in the Army before becoming a teacher.

You’ll even find a hard to put down book entitled In the Time of War by Bill Murphy, Jr. that focuses on Todd and his fellow graduating class from West Point.  I got the book and have read several chapters already.   It has several heartfelt excerpts of letters that Jen wrote to her husband and Todd’s farewell letter to Jen.  I can’t remember the last time I cried from reading a book.

It was fitting I thought that she decided to use the ten dollars to buy items for a care package that the student council members at her school were preparing to send to troops stationed overseas for the holidays.

Todd J. Bryant 1/14/80 - 10/31/03

We live far away from places like Fallujah, Iraq and Helmand Province, Afghanistan and sometimes we take for granted the sacrifices our brothers and sisters in uniform make for us.  I dedicate this blog post to the memory of Todd Bryant and encourage you to take a moment of silence right now and pay your respects to Todd and all of those who have lost their lives serving their respective countries.

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