Along the road , a few days ago, I was having dinner at the bar. Now that’s not at a bar (not that there is anything wrong with that) , it means at a bar in a resturant. If given the opportunity I prefer the bar stool to even the best table in the house. The reason…seating at a bar offers far more possibilities for conversation. More chances to listen to America as I make my way along our country’s backroads. This was my second night having dinner at this resturant and the same bartender was working. I took my seat and I was looking at the menu in an ever difficult attempt to order anything without cheese,meat, fish or oil. My greatest challenge, it turns out, is not trying to stay focused during long hours of riding. I’t not sharing the road with trailer trucks going 70 mph and it’s not riding through torrential rain and mid western thunderstorms. The greatest challenge is maintaining a vegan diet. I will update you on his particular road hazard in the days ahead.
I was scanning the menu when the manager walked over and said, “I see you are back. That’s what we like to see.” I laughed and said that she manages a great resturant with great food. She then said that last night the bartender told her about my 10,000 mile motorcycle ride to raise money to build specially adapted homes for our vets. So we talked some more about the journey till it was time for her to get back to her resturant responsibilities.
Once again I had told the story of our vets and their needs. Once again I explained how these homes were really a gift of freedom and independence. And once again I spoke about how the homes are part of a healing process that these vets will face for the rest of their lives. I hoped through conversation, that one more person left with a reinforced or renewed connection for helping others. The bartender listened to our conversation between taking care of the customers seated at the bar and filling drink orders for the dining room tables. Well, I finally ordered my dinner, with some “dietary compromises” to be sure.
A little later in the night the manager returned and said that there would be no charge for my dinner. “It’s our pleasure and our thanks for what you are doing for our vets.” I thanked her very much and noticed the bartender was listening and smiling.
I felt the need to ask, “did you have something to do with my no charge dinner?” And The bartender said yes, “I appreciate the sacrifice that you are making to contribute to the healing process for these seriously wounded vets.”
It turns out that “the bartender” is a young artist named Kacey. Her area of artistic focus is working with blown, cut and polished glass. I found this out through the unique conversation that happens seated at a bar.
I told her that my wife also was an artist, who like herself, is working another job as a teacher while pursuing her art. I explained that my wife designs very unique one of a kind jewelry that include rings, necklaces,earrings and fashion accessories. I then asked Kacey what her focus is. The answer I received was completely unexpected.
Kacey works with glass and creates abstract interpretations of ancient Egyptian Canopic Jars and also abstract portrayals of human life. She explained that “Egyptian Canopic Jars protected parts of the body from Point A to Point B is exactly what our bodies do throughout our lives. My art conveys the delicate balance that the properties of our bodies and glass have in common-fragility and strength.”
Kacey added ” After glass or a human body is cut into-they are left rough and raw, but with time and careful attention they can both be brought back to their original state. “
There is something more that I learned about care and sacrifice. And not the “exaggerated sacrifice” of riding a motorcycle, that earned me a free dinner from the resturant manager. Behind Kacey’s art is a true act of caring and sacrifice. In 2009, Kacey donated a kidney to a close family friend.
Kacey explained, “ I have realized that the act of cutting and polishing glass is analogous for the process of being wounded and then healing. After glass or a human body is cut into-they are left rough and raw, but with time and careful attention they can both be brought back to their original state.”
I know that I was meant to meet Kasey and be given the gift of a renewed insight that now energizes my riding. It is no matter of chance that she used the words wounded and healing. Kacey’s words that I have included here were written on her website long before I met her.
Together all of us can provide our attention , so desperately need by our vets, to help return them to more then their “original state.” We have the opportunity through our donations and conversation with those we meet to enable our wounded vets to become “vessels of wisdom forged by sacrifice.”
Kacey donated a kidney. But gave her heart to ‘One Life.”
Kacey’s art can be seen at kaceymccreery.com
Late this afternoon I arrived in O’Neill, Nebraska. It was a 250 mile ride from my starting point this morning. Needless to say I was ready to pull into the Holiday in Express, shut down the engine and plant the kickstand on the blacktop. After doing theses 3 ride concluding activities, I took off my helmet and walked into the “Express.” I walked up to the front desk hoping that the reason that the hotel is called the “Holiday Inn Express” is because they would have me quickly checked in and on my way to a cold room and a hot shower. The “check in went ok, not exactly “express,” which gave me time at the front desk to glance at a flyer. The flyer was announcing it was “Summer Fest” and listed the weekend events. Topping the list was the event for today, Friday the 18th. Scheduled to run from 9am-8pm was “Remembering Our Fallen.” It was sponsored by American Legion Post #93, here in O’Neill. “Express check in gave way to hasty departure” and my previous dreams of a cold room and a hot shower faded away. I found myself back in the sun, helmet on and starting up the bike. I rode through this small American farm town and found the National Guard Armory, home for the display. After parking the bike I entered the small unassuming brick building. I turned right and entered what looked like a room that was part gymnasium and part meeting hall. The “Remembering The Fallen” display was against the wall on the other side of the room. Seated at a small table was a member of the “American Legion Riders.” An equivalent group of riders to Post #170, that honored me with an escort when I began my ride 2,500 miles ago. My first reaction was that the display was nothing more than a collection of posters with photographs. The room was empty except for 2 other people in addition to the Legion Rider. I walked over to the posters with the intention of giving the photographs the courtesy of a walking review and I would then make my exit. I guess as the result of my adverting presentation background, I did’t think that the display held much promise. First impressions can often be misleading…and in this case, my initial thoughts said more about me than the content, that was silently looking back at me. I began to look at each photograph of a soldier’s face that had died in Iraq or Afghanistan. Below each picture was the name, age , date of death and actual combat event that took this one life. “One life” at a time lost to family and friends. “One Life” ended in a violent act of war. “One Life” given so that all of us, ‘The remaining lives,” can continue in freedom and independence. “One Life” taken…and “One Life,” our life, given to us.
After reading about each of these fallen, I walked over to the American Legion Rider seated at the table. He asked ” so what brings you here today?” I began to talk about my 10,000 mile ride, like I have so many times before, when I was suddenly overcome with emotion. Choking back the tears, I never finished my sentence. I simply said goodbye and turned to leave. The emotions that caused my tears were for all of the “One Life” losses in battle…and for all the empty chairs. No one looking, No one reading. But the empty chairs are not only in that room. One of those empty chairs represent me. Where have I been all these years when so many seriously wounded vets need my help? Where have I been looking that I never saw the need to help during all the terrible post 9/11 years of war. How long have I been an empty chair in spite of over a decade of the 24 hour news cycle. So I continue to ride to honor each of the lives given. I ride to find a way to help each of the lives physically and emotionally broken in service to their country. Each mile is ridden with a hope that another chair will be filled with a donation to build a home for our most seriously wounded. I ride out of the fear of waking up one morning and once again resuming my life as an “Empty Chair.”
This gave me a lot of time to reflect on the road behind and the road ahead. My thoughts are still evolving. But after 2200 plus miles I now realize that this is progress on my ride for the vets…subtracting miles from the 10,000 mile total. But for what has become an unexpected personal journey I only know one thing. My journey is adding miles to a road of renewal and personal reflection. The total miles to go, remains unknown.
I want each of you to know why I am riding, solo on my motorcycle, 10,000 miles to raise donations for our most seriously wounded veterans. Please read so you can understand just how important your support is…
In a previous post I told you what an honor it was to meet , in Union County, Ohio, with Dale Bartow, Executive Director, Veterans Service Commission and Office, Bill Howard and Ken Bonnell, Chairman, Union County Military Family Support Group. These men along with Homes For Our Troops, have come together to build a specially adapted home for Staff Sergeant Jason Gibson.
On May 30, 2012, while assigned to a dismounted patrol on a route clearance mission for the Infantry in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, Army Staff Sergeant Jason Gibson stepped on a hidden improvised explosive device (IED). The blast resulted in catastrophic injuries to both legs, a deep wound in the right forearm and the amputation of the tip of his left index finger. SSG Gibson has no memory of the nearly fatal explosion that day, which occurred some three months into his third deployment.
Following his medical evacuation from the battlefield to Kandahar Airfield Hospital, and then transported to Bagram Air Force Base, Jason would also be treated in Landstuhl, Germany. There, doctors worked feverishly to save his right leg, but he was becoming septic and had lost profound tissue from his thigh, requiring doctors to amputate the right leg as well (called a bilateral hip disarticulation.) This rare form of amputation accounts for about 2 percent of the country’s amputee population; so far in their journey, SSG Gibson and his wife Kara have only heard of four other soldiers with this level of amputation.
Weeks later, SSG Gibson was moved to Walter Reed where he underwent almost 20 surgeries for his wounds including a skin graft on his arm, as well as aggressive physical and occupational therapy. Despite his life-altering wounds, however, Kara feels grateful that Jason only suffered a mild concussion, and to this day, that he shows no signs of Traumatic Brain Injury or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Jason enjoys hand cycling, surfing, golfing, skiing, fishing, and being an active member in his community with the Church of Christ. He would like to return to school but is undecided about what he would like to do for his future career. Kara would like to resume her career as a physical therapist; she has supported her husband during every step of his rehabilitative exercises, and blogs about her experiences as the wife of a wounded veteran/amputee.
The couple would like to start a family, too, and look forward to living in a home that meets Jason’s accessibility challenges. They are grateful for the support and new life of independence that they will receive in the way of a specially adapted home from Homes for Our Troops. Says Jason, “We have been traveling a lot lately and we are finding that many places are not wheelchair friendly even though they claim to be ADA compliant. It would be great to have actually have an ADA complaint place of our own- one that I can live and function in.”
Sunday July 13th was an incredible opportunity to learn first hand how local people and organizations are delivering support to to military service members and returning veterans. Two Ohio groups are doing the work that President Lincoln referred to in his second inaugural address,
“…To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan.” The men pictured with me above are delivering on that promise everyday in Union County, Ohio. To my left is Dale Bartow, Executive Director, Veterans Service Commission and Office, to my right , Bill Howard and far right Ken Bonnell, Chairman, Union County Military Family Support Group. Each of these men have served with distinction in the military and now continue to serve their country and the individual needs of our troops. I am honored to have spent time with these men at a picnic for the service men and women of Ohio National Guard,C Battery, 1-174th Air Defense Artillery. This outstanding unit will deploy to Washington DC for one year. And you can be sure that that both service member and family will be supported during and after their deployment. My respect and appreciation for their work will inspire me for the rest of my journey throughout America.
Yesterday I had a informative visit with all the “great people” at “Homes For Our Troops.” It was very inspiring to talk with them about their work “Building Homes and Rebuilding Lives.” They opened their doors to me and made me feel at home. Here is a photo from the visit…left to right are Brianne McNamara, Richard King, Timothy McHale (President/CEO), Chris Mitchell and Ashley Twigg.
It’s the unexpected moments that make my ride so fulfilling. Checking out of the hotel today a young bellman helped me from room with the three metal cases and yellow dry bag. On the way to my bike he asked where I was riding to. So I told him about the ride to build specially adapted homes for our wounded vets. After a conversation he told me his dad although not a vet has been disabled since he was 9. Now he is working multiple jobs to save money to start a small business.
When I went to tip him he said please add what you planned to give me to this donation from me. It’s all I’ve earned so far today. It’s not much but I hope it helps. I shook his hand and told him there is no such thing as a small donation. He handed my his tips so far for the day…$8.00.
Tears in eyes. I began by days journey.
“White Turkey Drive-in.” Family owned since 1952, it is famous for it’s shredded white meat turkey sandwich and a root beer float.
It was a long day of riding. The ride I am on can’t be judged by how many miles per day I ride. Because I have decided to ride the country roads of our American past, the going can be slow, so the best way to judge my westward progress is by how many hour a day I ride. This day was 7 hours with helmet on. So when I saw the sign “enter here for the White Turkey Drive-In, there was a smile on my face as I down shifted, turned on the right hand blinker and turned into my dream destination. I was not disappointed. Here it was, a small building with a square open air counter. In the back was a picnic pavilion with tables and a covered area for everything you might want to put on a shredded white meat turkey sandwich on a bun no less! Truth be known they also served hamburgers, cheeseburgers etc…well you understand. But if you believe in America and you can possibly comprehend that there was actually a year numbered 1952, then you are only interested in the turkey sandwich. (best description it is like the comfort sandwich you made the day after Thanksgiving on your favorite bread with a little mayo. Yes I said it mayo.) Ok back to the story!
I was eating my turkey, reminder of my mom’s turkey leftover sandwich, when a man walked up and said “great bike.” I said thanks and he explained that he rode motorcycles since the late 50′s but decided to stop. I asked why and he held up his hands. His fingers were bent from arthritis. And he said in an almost apologetic tone , “can’t do it anymore…not safe.” I admitted that I might be a little too old and running out of reaction time to be riding 10,000 miles. We had a good laugh together…one of knowing what it’s like to be living a book that we are turning the pages on a little to fast for comfort. Well we went through a memory lane of great bikes we have ridden…Honda 305′s, Norton’s, Triumph’s…he even talked about a Scout! We exchanged opinions about the qualities of each and laughed about how in 1966 a 750cc bike was “badass!” At this point his wife and their female friend were sitting at a table in the pavilion waiting for him to join them so they could eat. I said hey good talking to you, go enjoy your dinner. He thanked me and said “yes I better join the ladies.” But He couldn’t resist asking about my ride. I explained how I was riding 10,000 miles solo to raise money to build specially adapted homes for our vets. That being said, we continued to talk for another half hour about the merits of belt drive, chain drive and shaft drive. I must tell you that if you are over 65 and have ridden them all, a great turkey sandwich can only lead to one winner..shaft drive. Dependable, quiet and low maintenance. About all us old guys can handle at this point. Finally, or so I thought, he shook my hand, wished me a safe ride and joined the ladies at the picnic table. So I swung my leg over the saddle, put on my helmet and prepared to leave. Looking back to wave goodbye, I saw my old time “new friend” curling his finger and gesturing for me to come over to his table. Ok ,I turned off the bike, took off my helmet and got off the bike .I walked over to where they were seated. He then handed me two $5.00 bills and said this is for our warriors. I could not thank him enough. I took the money and asked for their names so I could post it on the website and give them the recognition that they deserved for their donation. My new old friend said “no list it under your name..after all you are doing all the work. ” And then he added and you are taking a big chance out there on the road riding a motorcycle. I smiled and said “nothing to worry about.” It was at that moment that I remembered saying those very same words to my dad the night before I left for Vietnam. When you are 19 years old and find yourself ready to serve your country, once in combat, you learn the “white turkey surprise.” The surprise is that everything that gave you comfort, family moments, time with friends, spending summers with all of life’s possibilities in front of you and your mom’s great leftover “white turkey sandwich” can be take away from you in an instant. I think in the end that together “we are doing all the work.”