This past weekend I helped paint a bedroom for a woman whose husband was in the Iraq war. She has 3 small children, all under age 5. Her husband came back from the war physically, but mentally I guess he did not make it; he committed suicide in 2014. She doesn’t blame him for it, because it simply wasn’t him. She’s been on her own since.
Her husband was among 7,400 veterans who took their own lives that same year, accounting for 18 percent of all suicides in America. That is about twice the number of servicemen lost in combat during the entire Iraq conflict (since 2003).
But I want to talk about painting.
We painted a room for her little 4-year old boy, who wanted it to be dark blue. His mom was not keen on the color so we went with a light blue. Five minutes after we started he came in to ask if we were done yet. Then he came in again 2 minutes later and asked again. We weren’t done. He looked suspicious about the color, but his mom told him it would dry darker (it would not, but she would soothe him over later).
I also put together a couple new beds for the two little girls, one almost 3 and one 5. They were both really excited about the new beds, even though they were used beds. The beds were new to them, and the mattresses were very bouncy, and kids seem to be most interested in the trampoline-like quality of beds than anything else.
So now the little boy has a big bed in his (light) blue room, and the little girls share a room, each with their own single trampoline bed. I imagine they will have many years of jumping on them and bouncing off the walls, and playing and yelling at each other, all while their mom tries to keep her sanity.
A great moment for me was that there was a piano in the house, and while my friend (who helps this woman, her friend, often) had to go on an errand I sat down with the little blonde, rosy cheeked almost-3-year-old and we tried to play some songs. She would mostly just smash the keys with her whole hands and tell me to do the same thing when I tried to play something for real. She was also adamant that we use a songbook to play, and she would pick the song, even though she couldn’t read any of it. We stopped on a page with some ducks and cows and a horse and she pointed at the ducks and told me to “play them.” It was Old MacDonald Had a Farm. So I played it and started to sing, and when I did that she stopped smashing the keys for a minute and looked up at me, then rested her head against me and listened for a moment. She would have probably rested her head on my shoulder, but she was only about 1 foot tall sitting down, so she just rested her head on my elbow as we sat together on the piano bench. It was a really nice moment—maybe 10 seconds of calm in endlessly turbulent seas for the mother, I’m sure, though I’m also sure she feels blessed to have such great kids.
For me it was a reminder that the consequences of war are far-reaching and far too removed from the people in charge of starting them. That beautiful little girl should have been on that piano bench with her father. So I hope our new president will look for peace first, before sending real men and women into harm’s way, and to not ever send them to prove himself a man, or for his own ego, but on our nation’s behalf, should it as a last resort come to that. Because our vets need our support not only upon their return, but well before they’re ever put into harm’s way.
If you want to help our veterans, you can find many highly rated charities that provide various services, from lifting troops’ morale to financial assistance for food, rent, utilities, and medical expenses, at CharityNavigator.org.