Meaning Heals

Some of the weather affecting the Gulf of Mexico had speared up into the Atlanta area November 10th, deluging the airport with rain and delaying my flight to Chicago O’Hare 3 hours.  I landed in Chicago and worked my way to Naperville.  Finally, at 12:05 am on Veterans Day I met a gentleman named David Wentz, Committee Chair for the Naperville, Illinois Healing Field of Honor.  David wanted to show me the display of 2,009 U.S. Flags on poles spread out over nearly 3 acres in the quiet of the night.  As I climbed the backside of Rotary Hill I wasn’t prepared for the dramatic array, descending down the hill and filling the riverside park next to their famous Millennium Carillon Tower.  The spectacular view of the flags lit up at night with a misty haze wrapping around the flags was a solemn yet surreal reminder of the sacrifice and service of the men and women of our armed forces.  I knew then that this was going to be a Veterans Day I’d never forget.

Wednesday the 11th was filled with events and ceremonies honoring our Veterans.  Naperville is an amazing example of how dedicated and focused citizens can organize for the community good with events that inspire, educate and beautify.  Naperville is an example of what’s RIGHT with America.  I thank David and all those many wonderful souls who made the Naperville Healing Field of Honor a reality.

On Thursday November 12th I had the honor of attending a Rotary luncheon near the Naperville Field held in honor of the many veterans in their club.  I sat next to the keynote speaker Mr. Jack Amberg, Senior Director of Veterans Programs for the McCormick Foundation in Chicago, Illinois.  I was saddened to learn from Mr. Amberg that more Viet Nam Veterans have committed suicide than there are names on the wall at the Viet Nam War Memorial in D.C.

I sat there with a lump in my throat as big as my heart and listened as he told me of the challenges facing these soldiers coming off of deployment.  I can’t image the pain some of them endure having seen humanity at its worst after having given their best.  Many carry incredible guilt that they were the ones that survived while others see the faces of those they might have killed when the moment of violent duty arrived.

Battlefield Cross Ceremony at Healing Field, Sturgis, South Dakota.

For most of us, the distance from “war’s desolation” to here at home makes it difficult to do anything about the actual attacks, IED’s,  sniper’s, suicide bombers etc. that cause so much destruction of flesh and spirit.  Few of us can do little to comfort the Gold Star Families that have lost their sons, wives, or brothers other than to talk to them and honor them.  While more can be done to assist the families of those deployed, there are increasing resources and programs emerging every day where one can offer time and support to assist in that area.  The mutilated and disabled that live and return home with lost limbs and traumatic brain injury have a long road to recovery; they need our visits and prayers over months and sometimes years.

I ache for all of them, but right now, the suicides haunt me the most.

Viktor Frankl in his 1946 book Man’s Search for Meaning chronicles his experiences as a concentration camp inmate and describes his psychotherapeutic method of finding a reason to live.

In circumstances so deplorable and hopeless that the choice to give up was more a matter of how rather than if, Dr. Frankl observed this, “We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

In reading Dr. Frankl’s book I realized that the meaning of life is found in every moment of living and that life never ceases to have meaning, even in suffering and death.  He states, “The inner hold a prisoner has on his spiritual self relies on having a faith in the future and that once a prisoner loses that faith, he is doomed.

Dr. Frankl concludes that “The meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day and from hour to hour. What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment.

In September of 2002, I wanted to help individuals visualize the scope and scale of the loss of life resulting from the terrorist attacks on 9/11.  With help from family, friends, coworkers and our community, we put up over 3,031 flags on September 10th, 2002.  Each U.S flag was 3 ft. by 5 ft. and posted on an 8 ft. flagpole mounted in the grass.  While I had initially expected the flags to be more of a visual tool to help comprehend the magnitude of the loss, it quickly became evident that visitors were spending significant time amongst the flags.  Many wept and would leave only to return with other family members later.

One neighbor, Linda, had been there several times.  Noticing this I asked her why she kept coming back.  Linda said that she had held in her emotions for the entire year since the terrorist attacks and that in walking through the flags, each one representing a life lost that day, she had been able to cry and feel some measure of healing.  Others shared similar experiences as this phenomenon was repeated over and over again.

Since 2002 there have been over 300 of these fields of flags, these “Healing Fields”, remembering, honoring and commemorating and bringing awareness to everything from the terrorist attacks and those killed in the war on terrorism to child abuse, breast cancer, drunk driving and those killed in the attack on Pearl Harbor.  Many fields of flags have been placed to celebrate service and salute the living as well.

Scout assisiting many other volunteers in setting up a Healing Field for Patriot Day, Sandy, Utah.

Scout assisiting other volunteers in setting up a Healing Field for Patriot Day, Sandy, Utah.

I am a witness to thousands of families and individuals who have walked through the flags.  I have overheard many comments and have seen thousands wipe away tears.

I know PTSD is complex as is the myriad of reasons our veterans take their own lives.  I can’t imagine what a person goes through to get to the point that the pain of living exceeds their perception of the pain of death.

On the one hand I wish I could glimpse into the mind of one who suffers this way so I could be of greater assistance.  On the other hand I thank God I haven’t had such traumatic events that would haunt me that way.

In any case, I honor them for putting themselves in harm’s way and exposing themselves to such horrors for duty sake and for freedoms sake.

I know I am naive in many ways to all this.  I also know there is no way a Healing Field, or thousands of Healing Fields will cure such an epidemic as this, but I am confident some who struggle are touched by them and for that I am grateful.

A friend, John H. Groberg, crafted this eloquent thought:

There is a connection between Heaven and Earth. Finding that connection makes everything meaningful, Including death. Missing it makes everything meaningless, including life.

In a beautiful way that I still don’t quite understand, being outdoors among all those flags that symbolize so much, close in spirit to those they served and served with, that connection can be made and hopefully a newfound meaning will lead to a brighter path.  For any person contemplating suicide that may read this, I know there is help, I know you can find meaning if you can find the connection between Heaven and Earth.  I thank every veteran, every marine, soldier, airman and sailor for their service and I pray that you will find specific meaning in your life right now, today!


One Response to “Meaning Heals

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *