It’s June First. I use the first of every month to create a journal in which I will record the observations and experiences of my life…all month long. The first of anything is special. It’s fresh. It presents new possibilities. It’s a start over place. Begin Again. “One more time, with feeling!”
It’s raining outside. People on this island begrudging admit that it’s mostly been raining since summer before last. I’m calling June my flower song month. Because I know the flowers in our yard will get enough sun to grow well, they won’t be dried out and their colors will sing to me, everyday. They will sing of the promise of viewing challenge in the context of benefit and lesson. Sing out, sweet flowers. I need what you’ve got.
My friends, Paul David Leopoulos and his wife, Linda, created the THEA Foundation after their lovely teen age daughter was killed by a drunk driver. Thea’s academic and whole high school experience had been enlivened by her introduction to and participation in The Arts. Paul David and Linda wanted to honor Thea’s memory by offering that same artful expansion to other students in their home state of Arkansas. I’ve seen the profound impact of their arts programs on their state. As I try to describe the many ways that ART WORKS…I assess that “dance is the way the body spells.” People have observed for decades that my proprietary lettering style appears to “dance across a page.” Yep. That’s right. Dance was the inspiration for my lettering. The characters dance in a line across the page. Just the way a body spells a sentiment using its own form and the floor.
You may have read (or may not!) or heard that five people were arrested over the Memorial Day week end for dancing in the Jefferson Memorial They were protesting the same such arrest that occurred in 2008 in which folks were arrested for dancing in the Memorial while listening to music on headphones. That arrest occurred near midnight with no public eye. The demonstration of quiet dance, staged at the Memorial this week end, was intended to be caught on film and be placed in the public eye. As an objection. A demonstration against an injustice.
I have observed that in any cultural oppression, spanning the centuries, the first expression to be taken away from a culture/society is its artistic, artful expression. This Jefferson Memorial episode may seem like a small event to you but it’s indicative of a larger, and more concerning issue.
Art saves lives. Art enlivens. Art defines a community, a tribe, a culture. When we look to understand ancient civilizations one of the first measures to consider (and the measure that consistently survives) is the art of that society. How we articulate our cultural identity through art, of all forms, is a defining characteristic of our country. ANY country.
It is ironic that these arrests took place in the Memorial honoring the champion of personal freedom and the President known to have said, “A little rebellion now and then is a good thing.”
I am known by my friends to be given to fits of unanticipated dance – just about any where. Is it even conceivable that I could be arrested for that genuine, authentic expression of my joy? Last week I would have found it unlikely that such a thing would occur in my country. And today, I am saddened to acknowledge that it has. These individuals were not just spontaneously dancing as a personal expression. They were dancing in the Jefferson Memorial to make a larger statement.
Pinochet’s cruel rule over Chile comes to mind. And the women whose husbands, sons and fathers just “disappeared,” from their lives stood in the only way they could. Silently. With dance. They could not speak but they allowed their physical frame to cry out against the injustice they experienced. They danced. And danced. They danced to stave their loss and to speak for justice. And finally, the world noticed.
Will the world notice five people who were arrested in Washington, D.C. for dancing? Will they note the harsh and violent way the arrests were conducted? The more important question I want to ask is, “Have you?”
My friend, Donna, woke up early today, thinking about her Mom’s brothers and their service to their country. She has always wondered why a movie was never done about the Butler Boys from a dry land farm in SW Colorado. She graciously agreed to let me share her recollections with you. She remembers their story this way:
When WWII began, so did their service. It is hard to imagine the pride but also the fear only a mother could know as Mary Magdeline Butler said farewell to her sons, Harry, Paul, David, Morris, Wilbur, and John. Six sons off the fight for their country. One never to return, two so damaged from their time in prisoner camps they never spoke of the war again, and the remainder who took the experiences with tenacity and etched out very successful lives.
> Harry, the oldest was a Navy pilot. He was stationed in England but along with the British Fly Boys, they were responsible for ferrying and dropping bombs on the German Army. One winter morning, before de-icing the planes was known, Harry and his crew crashed into a rural field shortly after take off. All were killed. My nephew, Mark, a Naval officer, has the flag that draped Harry’s casket.
> Paul and Morris were captured and spent over two years in prison camps. The torture and abuse they received was never spoke about once they came home. Both had severe cases of PTSD, unknown in their day. They etched out quiet solitude lives.
> David and Wilbur were Navy all the way. David was assigned to a ship under the command of an alcoholic, spending most of his time in a drunken stupor. David was asked by the men on the ship to take over leadership. He was often seen in the mechanic room helping repair the ship or sewing on many of the items for men and for the ship (a skill he learned from his Mother). He was an inventor, creating the first machine (in his garage at age 52) that mass produced plastic bags for stores, plastic hospital gowns and gloves. He often traveled for business to the very areas he had fought in during the war. He became a millionaire. Wilbur helped build many of the on the ground camps, driving heavy machinery. He was a very successful businessman owning his own heavy equipment and excavating company, skills perfected in the army.
> John, the youngest of the sons, was wounded and sent home shortly after the war began. He lied about his age, entering the army at age 16. He was a Godsend to the family as his Dad was sent to a T.B. Clinic far away from their home for two years. The operation of the farm and orchards became young John’s job, one he stuck with throughout his life. At age 80, he still has a small farm and orchard 15 miles from me.
> There was tremendous pride in the small community for the six Butler Boys who served their country. Stories were written in the local paper honoring them. I remember as a small child, watching a 4th of July parade in which the five sons were the Parade Marshalls. all decked out in their uniforms of their past and behind them, a lone horse with boots draped over the saddle in memory of the brother that did not come home.
I have prepared this piece for you, as a gift.
Memorial Day is the opportunity to remember the sacrifices that others have made on behalf of our country and our freedom.
If you would like to open this heart piece – I’ve made it available here as a download. I have not signed it so that it can be very personal to you and your family. Perhaps you will want to add a photo of the military person or persons you are remembering. Perhaps you will take it to a grave side ceremony and leave it with flowers. In any case, you may do with it, for any non-commercial use, that you may wish. If you are inclined to share how you used it or what you did with it, feel free to comment.