“Hello My Name is Don…” Isn’t that something similar to the verbiage used by a lot of self-help groups to start their meetings? If so, let me begin my blog with that level of transparency. “Hello my name is Don”. Now that I’ve said it and identified myself by name, maybe I’ve got the hard part out of the way. Isn’t that the first step?
I can’t honestly tell you that I perceived I needed any help before I joined the group. My attitude is upbeat and positive about 98% of the time. Even when it’s not, I generally manage to turn the corner and focus on strengths rather than deficits. The need for support is not why I joined the group. Yet, because of the group, I find an extra something that I don’t have the words to cognitively define. What is it? You tell me.
Yet, I would hasten to say what is true for me is also true for the vast majority of other group members. The group doesn’t meet weekly. They don’t even meet monthly. Is it possible that you could become emotionally attached to a group that meets only one time a year?
Some of the members are seasoned and experienced and they obviously are tied to the cause. For them, the three-day annual meeting is non-negotiable. They will be in attendance come rain or shine. Yet strangely, even for a first timer, before the first day is over, the person experiences an extra something that unexplainably becomes a driving force that cements them to the cause.
Last night, I asked a young man if he, too, was from Kentucky? He looked at me like I had mistaken him for someone else and answered, “No, I’m from Florida.” When I had met him earlier in the day, he was seated next to someone I knew from Kentucky. I just naturally assumed they were related. It obviously was a wrong assumption.
So I asked, “How many meetings have you attended?” He responded: “This is my first meeting.” He voluntarily hastened to say, “I’ve enjoyed being here. I’ve met some nice people. This is something I think I want to do going forward”. Like I said, it is unexplainable, but already the brief taste he experienced had whet his appetite for more.
So if he wasn’t with the lady from Kentucky, with whom had he come? He must have read the question on my mind, because he said: “This is my first time here. I came by myself. I only have an older brother and he wasn’t interested in coming. My uncle is MIA and apart from my brother and I, my uncle has no other living relatives”.
Did I mention the meeting isn’t about the individuals who meet? Folks aren’t looking for a venue to fill a void or meet a deficit in their lives. It isn’t that kind of self-help group. Yet, in the process of meeting, they too, make the same discovery that I’ve made. They, too, find an “extra something” that tugs at their heartstrings and they sign on emotionally to advocate for a full accounting for their loved one. It is the only tangible way of actively doing something when there is so little that can be done. Did I mention that doing something is better than doing nothing?
Last night I attended the 48th Annual Dinner of the League of Families in Washington, D.C. It predictably included the Presentation Of Colors, the singing of the National Anthem, the Missing Man Table with a vacant chair for each branch of the military and a host of other things done symbolically to craft a story to which every person in the audience could relate. It was a visually powerful representation. So was the small sampling of pictures of the 1,600 + men and women still missing from Vietnam.
For me, the highlight of the evening was the verbal presentation made by Gen. Paul J. Selva, 10th Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the nations second highest-ranking military officer. First of all, erase from your mind the concept that to be a General you have to be someone almost as old as God and bring with you a written script that those in attendance automatically fear will take forever to get through.
He wasn’t like that at all. Before he fully articulated his first sentence, he had my attention. I found myself hanging on to every word. His script wasn’t stuffy. In fact, I’m not even sure he had a script. His words, his demeanor, his eye contact with those in attendance, the way he postured himself and his voice tone clearly communicated the authenticity that he was speaking from his heart.
In the process his communication style was undeniably heart-to-heart. He shared three real life stories that had impacted his life and the POW/MIA cause. Since I am relying on memory and I don’t have the details clearly framed in my head, I’ll not attempt to recount the three stories he shared. I will simply reference one.
He shared the importance that Phil and Karen found undeniable in hoping one day the crash site of their family member would be located. I mean, after all, how hard could it be with today’s technology and access to a really good map? They refused to be dissuaded by reports that the plane went down in a very remote area of Laos. They refused to give up on fostering the hope that the crash site could and would be located. When it appeared no one was going to take action to fulfill that dream, they decided to take efforts into their own hands.
Purchasing the hiking gear necessary, they decided to travel to Laos and personally engage in the search themselves. Would you believe it, the hiking boots weren’t even needed. They personally located the crash site. Soon excavation of that site will begin. Without Phil and Karen’s resolve to refuse to settle for anything less than a full accounting, none of that likely would ever happen.
Perhaps General Selva captured the essence of “that something extra” I can’t define when he talked about the importance of honoring those who gave everything by settling for nothing short of the fullest possible accounting. Actually, that’s got to be the catalyst that prompts an “extra something” that undeniably makes a difference in a member’s life. I am blessed to me a member of the group.
All My Best!