Last week, we had the honor of facilitating our sharing circle at the Alois, with the focus on America and freedom. What began as a concept to ask the participants to write it means when they see the American flag went deeper than imagined.
We began with Emma Lazarus, her beautiful sonnet “The New Colossus” engraved on the Statue of Liberty. I had visited the Statue of Liberty a few summers ago, but somehow the meaning had more impact as I read her words. “Imprisoned lightening”, “Mother of exiles”, “sea-washed sunset gates”, all these phrases and concepts are missing from our everyday jargon that reference the Statue of Liberty. These stronger images are the ones that touched me most deeply.
As participants were asked, what the pictures in front of them meant, each was able to articulate a time when the war took life away from them.
N. mentioned herself, as a young wife, waiting for the return of her husband. She still waits today, though her husband has passed away.
R. mentioned, “I cant share.” I took this to mean she didn’t want to participate, but when gently nudged, I realized it was the pain she was bearing keeping her from sharing her words. “All those boys that died needlessly,” she finally uttered, with a sense of relief, but almost as if it were shameful to address death, or question our country’s motives for war.
R. was charged with ferrying the Japanese POWs to camps. We knew this about him, but he too was reluctant to share. Just opposite R. sat M., who bears scars of a bomb dropping in her hometown in Japan.
L. always with something upbeat to share, mentioned “I served in Korea from 52-54, but I didn’t do anything extraordinary. I don’t want to brag. I wasn’t special because I served. And those who did not serve should not be ashamed either.”
A different R, who, when presented with a picture of men in uniform across the war and ages, noted how many wars our country had fought. When prompted, the picture meant more than just men in uniform. “I was a young nurse. I was behind the lines, taking care of these men.”
And finally, F., always the quick-witted one. When shown pictures, she didn’t connect to any of them. But when asked to write, she shared, ”My brother went off to war. I remember my mother crying all the time.”
We closed our time that day with a rousing rendition of God Bless America. I was grateful for our work that day. I felt like the woman Emma described in her poem, “a mighty woman with a torch…from her beacon-hand glows world-wide welcome.” For liberating the words of our participants from some depth inside them, that we only touch for seconds. And while the words only last on paper, and their minds often travel elsewhere, their sense of freedom has lasted a lifetime.