Today as I honor our US Veterans, I am reflecting upon how many members of my own family volunteered to serve. I am truly blessed.
In the photo below is my Uncle Sidney as he graduated his training in the US Navy then onto fight in WWII. My Uncle Bob fought in Europe for the US Army during WWII. My father’s father was in the US Navy in Europe during the war then in the South Pacific during the occupation. And, of course, my Great-Grandpa Sam who served in BOTH WWI and WWII.
During the Vietnam War my father and his brother served in the US Air Force and US Army respectively. I wish I had my father’s service photo. Somewhere I have a picture of my uncle in his uniform during a visit home. One day I will find it.
My Aunt Cathy served with the US Army and her son, my cousin Steven, with the US Navy for what seems like forever.
The blessings continue as the list of family who served in the US military goes on.
There won’t be any buildings named after my relatives. No statues erected in their image. Their birthdays aren’t destined to be national holidays. But their dedication — all veterans dedication and service — to our nation makes them just as important as those who do have those things. Maybe more. When each took their oath, they knew they would not return home the same as when they left. Thankfully in my family, everyone came back with their bodies fully in tact. Yet they had all changed from the experience. And every American is better for the service of every US Veteran.
How appropriate that we honor our Veterans on the 11th Day of the 11th Month in the 11th Hour, the same month as our country celebrates Thanksgiving. It is a month that gratitude is top of mind. I am in the habit of saying simply “Thank you for your service” to every Veteran I encounter. It brings a smile to their faces and makes my day every single time. I highly recommend doing this. Not only on Veterans Day but every day.
Prayed to and for Mama last night. That’s nothing new. I’ve been doing that for over 15 years now. But last night the yahrzeit joined us. It made me think of the traditions Mama taught me. She was not religious but always considered herself a Jewish woman. Other members of the tribe understand this notion easily.
It was decided that when I was born because I was a mix of so many different cultures (among other reasons), I wouldn’t be raised in any particular religion. I would be exposed to both Catholicism and Judaism and my ultimate spiritual path would be yet another thing i was left to figure out for myself.
When I bought my yahrzeit candle for Mama from the supermarket, the cashier in his chit chat said, “You know, someone came in here before and bought 36 of these!” My knee jerk response was to say, “Wow…that’s a lot of dead people.” He looked back at me, puzzled, and said, “I guess you light these on a particular day?” I forget sometimes that I’m not in Queens anymore. I explained briefly that it is for Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar. Candles are lit for loved ones who have passed. I felt Mama’s spirit strong in me as I spoke to this young man. It reminded me of how she explained the holidays to me years ago. He smiled and said, “Enjoy your holiday!” I didn’t correct him by telling him that Yom Kippur isn’t seen as a joyous holiday but rather a somber day of attonement. Instead I smiled back and said, “Thank you.” Not simply because my supermarket theology lesson had come to its natural end but because I have always enjoyed having a day set aside for reflection.
Yom Kippur is a day for our human self to be as close to our spiritual self as a mortal can be by letting go of what our earthbound bodies require like food and water. Sin is also what makes us human. It is a day to recognize the sins we’ve committed, reconcile them with our souls and ask God for forgiveness.
In years past, it is the reconciliation of my sins to my own soul that gave me the most trouble because unlike God, I lacked a clear definition of what true forgiveness is. It rendered me unable to forgive myself for the wrongs I have done and because of this, I couldn’t imagine anyone, including God Himself, being able to forgive me either. Age, experience and hard work have helped me greatly in this regard.
Being able to do anything for 40 years is significant. At 47, it is only now that I am grasping a true understanding of what Time does to us during our human experience and why we mark milestones.
Today is the 40th anniversary of my father’s death. I am grateful to the strangers who posted the photo online of his tombstone in Arizona. When they posted this picture, the only one I have of “him,” I found out the exact date he died. I remember clearly being told the news by his mother. I remember clearly being 7 years old. I remember clearly being in Mrs. Rosenberg’s 2nd grade class, sharing the news with her and seeing the pity in her eyes. But without the kindness of these strangers, I wouldn’t have been able to mark his exit on this date for the last few years. It is as important for me to honor this date as I continue my earthly existence, hopefully for many more years, as it is for my father’s soul, wherever it may be.
In the last 40 years while my father’s body lay under his tombstone, I lived a life he helped to create. And when I say that, I do not simply mean in the biological sense. Even though I don’t have memories of looking into his eyes, hearing his voice or holding his hand, there are few things as significant in how I viewed myself and the importance of my life than his abandoning me as a baby then dying when I was a child. His deliberate absence to kiss the boo boos he inflicted upon me taught me a lot. Much of those things were wrong but he wasn’t there to correct me. I was a child who learned to fend for myself emotionally at an all-too-young age.
As I got older, my pain hardened into anger then fermented into rage. Directed at my father. Directed at myself. Rage and self-hatred do not make a solid foundation for a life. They are fodder for bad choices. And despite my pragmatic nature, I did make bad choices. Some on an epic scale the consequences of which I am still dealing with.
Thankfully rage can’t fuel an everlasting flame. As decades passed, I worked on making the corrections that my father wasn’t around to guide me through. No words of wisdom. Only his ghost that I made certain still haunted me and some degree of mental illness.
It was when I became a mother that things really changed. I mean, as a parent your entire life shifts. Here I mean my relationship with myself in turn my “relationship” with my father really changed. As my baby girl and I went thru life together, achieving milestones, making mistakes, maintaining mundane everyday lives, I thought about all the things my father missed out on. As I accumulated tools in my mental health toolbox to combat my chronic depression first motivated by motherhood then carrying on for me, my heart started to break for my father. As adept he was as building and creating, his mental health toolbox was empty…and that lead to his early demise after a short life of rage, violence and self-hate.
The scars are still here 40 years later. They’ll still be here in 10 more years for the next milestone of my father’s passing. They make me who I am…and 40 years later, I kinda like who I am. But to a huge extent the rage, hate and resentment that I had so long, so strong, have been replaced with love and compassion for the man who made me but never really knew.
Last year, the REALTOR organization that I have the honor of being president of, hosted its annual charity fundraiser in support of a grassroots organization helping Veterans transition into civilian life and combat PTSD through comedy and the arts. I talked about my father during my introduction of the group’s founder. I think it fitting to share here too as I commemorate the milestone of 40 years without-now-with my father…
“…Tonight I want to share a little bit about…why Project 9 Line’s mission struck such a deep chord with me.
My father, Peter Frank Dajnowski, Jr.,enlisted in the US Air Force during the Vietnam War. He dreamed of one day being a pilot. While he never realized that dream, he was proud to don the uniform and serve our Nation, especially during a time of conflict.
His life ended with a bullet in 1977 at age 31. It has been a long-standing controversy as to who put it there…but it has always been clear that HOW it got there was through a series of bad choices and sick thinking. That day, the war was finally over for my father.
My father had mental issues and was gone from my life from the time I was an infant. All I have ever had were stories to bring him to life for me. I was told that from the time he was little, he loved to create things with his hands. He was funny. He made everyone laugh — often without trying — with his quick wit and biting sarcasm. Makes me wish I had a chance to laugh at his jokes.
Fast forward to about a year ago when I met Patrick Donohue at an Islip Chamber of Commerce meeting when he told me about an organization he started. He told me that Project 9 Line works with Veterans, many of whom are combatting PTSD, helping them transition into civilian life through the arts, comedy and a variety of other ways that he will tell you more about in a moment.
I couldn’t help but think of my father. Maybe if there was an organization like this back then, maybe his internal war might have ended differently. Maybe. But it’s too late to rewind that tape.
It is my current hope that we can do through programs like the ones that Project 9 Line offers, that instead of a soldier’s daughter living off secondhand memories, she gets the opportunity to create her own firsthand…filled with laughter. That would be priceless.
So Daddy…I am grateful for the life you gave me and I hope that I am making you proud with how I am choosing to live it. I hope that wherever you are, you finally found peace. And thank you for your service. It might not have showed much at the time but IT MATTERED. Your life mattered.”
I fancy myself a writer and therefore an observer of the human condition. It’s my nature to wonder why and explore the options, often painstakingly, in my head then let those thoughts spill from my mind to written word. One of the most puzzling parts of the human experience is how we can speak so freely when expressing discontent yet remain silent on the flip side.
It is said that we are all driven by one of two forces: Love and Fear. Is the comfort of Fear — lashing out wildly to strike the first blow or to encase one’s heart in cement so it won’t get hurt — that much more appealing than the vulnerability of Love?
It must be. And that is life’s tragedy. So often we wait until the end is near, or even passed us by, to allow light to escape thru a crack in the wall around our truest selves. How often have I seen a friend kneel before a coffin and offer forgiveness for the long lost person who lay inside of it? How often have I seen a friend clutch the hand of another and say with a lump in their throat…I wish I told you…or I thought you knew…. How often have I been that person on my knees or the one with tears cascading down my cheeks?
It is on days like this that the reminder that time runs out faster than you realize sucker punches us in the gut. So many stories of lovingly desperate last words said before their lives were stolen.
Then as I was watching the relentless Hurricane Irma coverage yesterday and Hurricane Harvey the weeks before, I noticed something. The mighty and study oaks fell hard when tested by the stress of the storms that blew in and created their own destruction in addition to the storms as they came down. The tireless work of clearing their destruction will carry on long after the storm is gone. While in silent contrast, the delicate and graceful palm trees swayed and bent when they were tested by a historically fierce storm. They came out not quite the same way they went in…but they survived and they did not make the damage from the uncontrollable tempest worse. They will continue to live and grow during the recovery. And the irony of life’s full circle, the palm trees of the World Financial Center were almost all that stood 16 years ago today in their graceful defiance of the chaotic horror surrounding them.
Getting older and (hopefully) wiser as I continue my keen writerly observations, I work toward operating from a place of Love more and a place of Fear less and less. It’s hard being human so I think I will try to be more like a palm tree. Being vulnerable makes you strong.
WOW…what a week it’s been so far! We made history in multiple ways. We will continue to do so in the days to come.
As Americans, we have the freedom to express our opinions and engage in discussion when we have a different point of view.
Where else but in America could I, a woman of Hispanic and Jewish discent, pour my thoughts out onto this blog then broadcast them to any number of the millions of others out there in cyberspace? My greatgrandmother Lily was denied the opportunity to read or write when she grew up in Europe. It was useless to educate a female…let alone a Jewish girl. Oh my…how far our bloodline has flowed with her arduous journey to America!
With all the current passionate disagreement, the one thing we can agree upon is that it is our US Armed Forces that protect that and all other freedoms for all Americans.
Today, please exercise your freedom of speech and thank a Veteran for his or her service.
God bless every soldier, sailor, marine and airman. GOD BLESS AMERICA!
Tunnel Vision. This is one of the key components of depression. It is the disease’s way of not only keeping you in its grips but strengthens its hold on you. The problem (and to the depressed mind that it often oneself) and its misery are the only things that exist.
But that’s not true. There is an entire world that can be drawn upon to help you make your way out. You just have to allow yourself to see it.
Often it feels like an impossible struggle to simply lift your head. Do it anyway. It’s worth it.
Easter is the celebration of the sacrifice. We are reminded that Jesus died for our sins. As a mother, i think i get that. If i could, i would take any punishment to spare my baby girl from suffering. But that is not always a good idea. I think that we need to be willing to face our own sins a little more often and accept their consequences. After all, being human it is a given that we are sinners. Being repentant celebrates humanity. Is there a more noble way to honor the life we have been given than to accept our frailties and find strength in one another for it?
Be kind. Remember, we are all in this life together.