Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Oh, Say Can You See?

For the past eight weeks I’ve been traveling across the country, watching the odometer on my car flip past 100,000, eating too many Combos (cheddar is my favorite), and sleeping in too many hotels. (Correction: Trying to sleep. I’ve been awakened by folks pounding on the door next to me because “Jennifer” forgot to set her alarm and was about to miss the shuttle, by a smoke alarm, and by a hotel staff who forgot to re-set their clocks to Daylight Savings Time.)

And what have I seen?

A glorious, panoramic vision of our country. From the Appalachian mountains where my vehicle went up and down and round and round like a child’s toy, to the waving wheat-filled plains of Kansas, to the big muddy river defining the state borders, to a huge restaurant in Sikeston MO where they throw hot, yeasty rolls at the diners…this is a land so vast, so great that my heart has ached for the love of it.

Today, being Veterans Day, I pause to give thanks that we are free. My mother’s father fought inWWII—she still owns his service revolver. My other grandfather was one of 704 who survived the bombing of the USS Franklin by the Japanese—I have his handwritten account. My husband’s father served on a base in Germany—we still have a collection of Hummels he bought for his bride. My father served on planes during the Korean conflict—he send home a tiny kimono for me.

Perhaps the most poignant service was one I nearly overlooked. I own a grainy “Brownie” snapshot of my uncle in uniform in Korea. For years I’ve admired how handsome Uncle Dick was, with his profile and features so much like a young Johnny Carson. Then I decided to enlarge the photo and use it on a scrapbook page. That’s when I discovered that the “wall” he was standing in front of was actually a bunker made of sandbags.

Suddenly, I saw that image in a new light. I realized my uncle planned it as a “goodbye” photo, a last image in case he didn’t survive.

Often in life we think we “see”. We believe we know what’s what. Who’s who. How it’s hanging. But a slight shift of perspective can open our eyes.

Let me offer a suggestion: A week ago, voters waited seven hours at the polls here in St. Louis. To honor all our veterans, why not make Election Day a national holiday? When we lived in England, our neighbors were shocked that our country--which touts free and fair elections—does NOT give our citizens the day off. Instead, we make it difficult to cast a ballot. Wouldn’t that be a better way of honoring all those who served our country? Who fought and died to make sure we have the right to choose our leaders?

That’s how I see it.


Jess Lourey said...

Beautiful prose backed up by thoughtful action--excellent, Joanna! And I agree that a holiday to vote would be a great step in our democracy. I'd like to also add that voting is the least we can do; when the fervor of an election has passed, we need to dust ourselves off and get to work volunteering in our community, meeting our neighbors, and making sure kids are safe, whether they're ours or someone else's.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

You are so right, Jess. This year we were active participants...we canvassed for our candidate. It made me feel so much more connected and involved. Now we're planning to do community service over the holidays. That's a beautiful snowball effect.