Remember that old saying, Every Cloud Has a Silver Lining?
It occurred to me the other day when I saw a video of the Pentagon's final farewell to President and Commander-in-Chief George Bush. The hour-long ceremony, officially labelled the Armed Forces Farewell Ceremony in Honor of Commander in Chief George W. Bush at Fort Myer, VA, is available on the Pentagon's website and can be downloaded, or you can just watch it here.
Toward the end of the ceremony, US Army Sergeant Leigh Ann Hinton stepped forward, mere feet from where President Bush, First Lady Laura Bush and other dignitaries were seated, and delivered a solo rendition of God Bless America that would have made Kate Smith beam with pride.
It made me beam with pride because Leigh Ann is my cousin (2nd). I haven't seen Leigh Ann in years, but I do hear occasionally from her parents, Floyd and Kay Haber.
I have known both of them virtually my entire life. Floyd is my cousin and our families regularly got together when we were young. Kay and I attended the same elementary schools, and we went to the same church, both singing in the church choir. When I was really small - I was in kindergarten, Kay was in 2nd grade - I remember her being one of the "big girls" who helped little kids on with their snowsuits and boots.
But in the last 20 years or so all of us have done a ton of moving around and I didn't see many members of my extended family as much as I would have preferred.
Then we linked up, four years ago at a family reunion, and again at my Uncle Bob's 100th birthday. In early December my Uncle Bob died at the age of 104, as I related in an earlier column, and suddenly I was hearing from my extended family again as we reminisced on the past.
In addition to hearing from Floyd and Kay I received an email from Floyd's brother Bob, an organic farmer with an hefty interest in cutting edge food production methodology such as aquaponics, who is the last family member still living on and working the remnants of our grandfather's farm. Bob regularly reads this column and occasionally comments, but the message this time was that our cousin Leigh Ann had sung God Bless America for the president and I could watch her performance on the Pentagon channel.
I logged on, tuned in, watched the entire ceremony and could not have been more proud. That lady has a voice that I can only describe as incredible. What a performance! Her mom and dad said that when she was singing, the president was so overcome that he had tears streaming down his cheeks and Leigh Ann had to look away to avoid being overcome herself. What a tremendous performance. What a tribute to an outgoing president.
Now here is the icing on the cake. Leigh Ann's sister, Janet, who lives in upstate New York, also was in contact in recent weeks, and she too has a particular talent that has made a difference in my world. As I related in another earlier column, my 92-year-old mother, who had been living alone for nearly a decade, moved in with my family and I just before Christmas.
The transition has been exceptionally smooth for her and us. We have heard from a plethora of family members who are grateful that we offered mom a place to spend the rest of her life among her family, rather than being consigned to a nursing home.
For the first time in years Mom is taking an active part in managing her own life, and she couldn't be happier - unless she was 20 again, I guess. We have worked hard to reconstruct her medical and dental histories so she can have medical care immediately available if necessary, she is meeting people, looking forward to her weekly hair appointment, and planning which flowers she wants to plant in the spring.
But as anyone who is a 24-hour caregiver for the elderly is aware, older people get cold much more easily than us younger folk. To compensate, we have turned the heat up in our home, and I will be spending far more for oil this winter than I had planned. But I would much rather see my Mom warm and comfortable than pinch pennies or restrict her movements which would only make her miserable.
This is where my cousin (2nd) Janet comes in. Janet has a skill that actually should be referred to as an art, that being knitting, or crocheting afghans.
I learned this when a parcel addressed to my Mom arrived just after Christmas. (Janet must have pretty good reactions too, considering that Mom was dropped off at my house three days before Christmas. When this all happened I was only given three hours notification that Mom was about to be turned over to an old-age facility, but it only took us a milli-second to offer a better alternative.)
Janet's gift of a hand-crafted and beautifully designed afghan was exactly what Mom needed to help with the transition. It not only represented a snug and warm covering, especially when the days got down to zero, but since it also was hand-crafted by a family member it provided a second form of warmth that has nothing to do with the furnace.
All in all, the renewed communication that resulted from my Uncle Bob's death has certainly brought positive benefits. My uncle was a very old man when he died, and he lived a life that was far longer and fuller than most of us can reasonably expect to imitate. I am sure that he would be pleased to know that so many of his family members are back in touch, primarily as a result of our shared grief over his passing.
So, what on earth, you have to be asking yourself at this point, does any of this have to do with George W. Bush. My response - everything.
On September 11, 2001 our country was the victim of a sneak attack by a group of Islamo-fascist zealots who flew two commercial airplanes full of passengers into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, collapsing them, another into the Pentagon causing considerable damage and death, and a fourth into the earth in Pennsylvania killing everyone aboard after passengers revolted and fought back.
These attacks were the culmination of decades of escalating violence against the US from Islamo-fascist zealots, and a political structure in Washington, DC that never took them seriously enough, nor understood what it would take to stop them.
Attacks on military installations, ships, embassies and individual Americans overseas grew into the first attack on the World Trade Center during the Clinton Administration. That attack and others on American military personnel stationed in Muslim countries were approached as violations of law rather than acts of war, which the terrorists laughed at, and only encouraged further attacks.
The only president since the debacle referred to as the jimmy carter presidency onward, to take these attacks seriously and respond in a manner that would prevent further escalations was George W. Bush. He went to war in the terrorists' home base in Afghanistan, where our forces smashed the Al Qaeda and Taliban political and military structure.
When Al Qaeda operatives moved to Iraq and took advantage of the support of Saddam Hussein, Bush, making good on his promise to America to "hunt down and smoke out" terrorists wherever they were hiding, pushed for permission to invade Iraq. He got it from a wholly supportive Congress, including some of the best known names in Democrat ranks from both the House and Senate. When our forces were victorious in the initial battles the world smiled on George Bush.
But when remnants of Saddam's army disbanded, melted into the cityscapes and countrysides and formed alliances with the Islamo-fascists in an attempt to return to power, Congressional Democrats and nearly all mainstream media outlets saw an opportunity to undermine Bush. Thus began an unceasing cacophony of lies, misinformation and outright pro-terrorist propaganda that continues until this day.
The battle to help Iraq form its own government was long and difficult, but ultimately our armed forces prevailed even as members of Congress helped our enemies - for which they should have been tried for treason - and major media outlets such as the New York Times printed national security secrets that put our troops and populace at risk.
Even so, we have spent the past eight years in relative security. We lost more than 4,000 troops in battles, while the terrorists lost something in the range of 50,000 which certainly put a crimp in their recruiting efforts. Iraq is now a free democracy working out most of its problems on its own and our troops will gradually be withdrawn over the next couple of years.
Meanwhile, more troops are returning to Afghanistan to hunt down the remaining terrorists who have fled there, because George Bush has made just about any other country in the world inhospitable to them.
Everything I wrote about above, all the ups and downs, good and bad that my family is experiencing, in other words - life - is possible because we have not been attacked again. President and Commander-in-Chief Bush took the fight to our enemies, prevailed in every battle, and showed the world that the US is NOT a "Paper Tiger" that won't stand up for itself.
While he was tending to the the task of keeping our country free, we, the common people were able to pursue our own interests without undue worry that we would find ourselves in the midst of another terrorist attack.
We have been able to rise every morning and plan our days with the full expectation that our plans would go as we intended. For this very basic concept that we in America see as our right, we can thank the administration of George W. Bush.
For all that was said about him, for all the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that he endured, President Bush chose not to lower himself to the level of pettiness exhibited by so many of his critics, and at the same time took on and defeated a vicious, reprehensible enemy.
Life went on unfettered in America's households and we can only hope that the next president can show the same steadfastness and dignity exhibited by his predecessor.
I firmly believe that when history is written by objective observers, the presidency of George W. Bush will be seen as one of strength, forethought, and steadfastness in the face of unprecedented adversity. I believe George W. Bush will emerge as an eminently human and capable president who saw to it that the rest of us were able to enjoy our lives and our freedoms.
I am truly proud and happy that my cousin Leigh Ann was selected to take such a prominent part in his final farewell from the troops. Perhaps the next afghan my cousin Janet produces can be sent his way, as a means of saying thank you from a grateful nation.
Monday, January 19, 2009