Monday, December 16, 2013

James J Peters VA Medical Center

You can’t teach compassion and you can’t teach empathy.  You can’t make your child volunteer.  You can’t force them to do small things with great love. All you can do is offer them the opportunity to serve over and over and over again and hope that someday the profound effects of their efforts will be realized and they will understand the true meaning of compassion.

A homeschooling family in New York organizes a yearly trip to James J Peters VA Medical Center in the Bronx, New York through the husband’s organization, The Nam Knights, whose mission is “to honor the memory of American Veterans and Police Officers who have lost their lives in the line of duty, to assist Veterans and Police Officers in their time of need and to promote community awareness through sponsorship and participation in various fundraising events.”

This year the coordinator’s wife Michele, a homeschooling Mom, posted an invitation on our Connecticut homeschooling yahoo site.  After asking my family if they would like to participate, we began planning and preparing for this visit.

We held a card making open house and spent an entire day constructing handmade cards to give to the Veterans.  Some of our card ideas came from Pinterest.  Others came from DoodleDrawArt.  All were lovely.  I printed off a verse from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day to adorn the inside of the cards, and we all signed our names.  

My father, whose father was a WWII Veteran and whose son is a Veteran of Afghanistan, generously donated hats and tee shirts from his business as gifts.  As I packed these items into bags to transport to the VA, it occurred to me that my girls are now mature enough to understand that on this very special day, they will be Santa.  They will spread Christmas joy and cheer.  Just like little children wait in anxious anticipation of the arrival of Santa Clause on Christmas Eve, some of the Veterans in the Bronx anxiously awaited our arrival, because for some, it would be the only holiday visit they would receive.  

We pulled into the parking lot behind several FDNY firetrucks and police cruisers with lights flashing.  Santa stepped out of the firetruck and greeted us all with a smile and a wave.  A smile and a wave.  That is what my girls were told to give the Vets.  Over and over they were told that the biggest gift we can give someone is our smile.  We smiled.  We smiled when we wanted to cry.  We smiled as we read the newspaper postings on the door of an Iraqi vet, who was probably the same age as me, who will never leave this hospital because of a traumatic brain injury he received while serving our great country.  While serving for my children and me.  I smiled when an elderly Navy Veteran recounted to me his struggle with leukemia and pneumonia, and how recently, his legs just stopped working.  I smiled when I wanted to cry because in his story I felt the presence of my Grandfather and understood how suddenly these men and women need to share their lives, their experiences, and their stories with someone who will listen.  I smiled when I wanted to cry at the woman who came to visit her husband and share a meal with him before wheeling him back to his room.  I smiled at the nurses and thanked them for their service. This hospital was not a sad place.  It was full of joy, and smiles, and love.  The nurses knew these men and women.  They knew their backgrounds.  They knew how they served.  They shared their stories with us and they allowed us into their space.  

Grace, who has been given a gift of service, took lead with a cart, and went with Santa into the rooms of men, some whom were very close to meeting God.  She smiled.  She wished them Merry Christmas and she never lost her composure.  She amazed me.  Then there was Lilah, who was a bit quieter, a bit more reserved, a bit overwhelmed at the magnitude of the event, but who still mustered up the courage to share a beautiful rendition of Carol of The Bells on the piano in the community room.  

This day we were Santa.  I hope that we are offered the opportunity to visit these service men and women again, after the holidays have passed, when the decorations are taken down and packed away and when these Veterans need a reminder that 

"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men."
   Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


Karen said...

This is just beyond beautiful. First of all, the cards are exquisite and second of all what you gave these people is immeasurable. LOVE LOVE!!!!! Did you use stencils for the cards?

Jessica said...


Thank you! I don't have the words to truly do this day justice. The Merry Christmas on the cards was from a stencil. I can write decent calligraphy, but I don't have any calligraphy pens!

Paul said...

What better way to share in the spirit of Christmas than to spend it with those who have sacrificed everything and now rely on the benevolence of others for their well being. No doubt Christmas will forever have a truer meaning for all who cared enough to share their time with those who have so little of it left. Christ-like is the most superlative adjective I can think of.

Jessica said...

If the girls even took away a fraction of what I did then they understood the true meaning of Christmas.

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