A contributor to ReadTheSpirit, the Rev. Rod Reinhart from the Chicago area, last appeared in these pages when he took his entire community out into the streets for prayer.
Over the years, Rod also has taught us many things about pastoral responses to the U.S. military. Rod is both a nationally known peace activist—and, in recent years, he has become an outspoken advocate for the dire needs of military families. Rod’s ministry proves that it is possible both to oppose war—and to work should to shoulder with men and women who’ve served their country.
With Veterans Day 2009 approaching, we need no further evidence of the critical need to help these families than to follow the headlines about the terrible toll that stress is taking on military men and women.
Our approach here at ReadTheSpirit stems from the same kind of balance that Rod and many other prophetic voices are showing us. Today, we are honoring the lives of men and women in service and looking for creative ways to actually make a difference in their lives. (Want to make your voice heard on this issue? Visit the OurValues.org page, focused on the military this week, and add a comment.)
Here’s our first major recommendation this week (and we’ve got 2 more coming Wednesday and Thursday) … MARK YOUR CALENDAR to see “The Way We Get By,” debuting on the PBS “POV” documentary series Wednesday, November 11, at 9 p.m. for Veterans Day. (Here’s an entire PBS Web page designed to help you spread the word about this important film.)
This is the story of 200 volunteers in Bangor, Maine, who greet our service personnel as they leave for Iraq and Afghanistan—and as they come home again. Most of these volunteers are senior citizens and you’ll learn in the movie that the “Troop Greeters” program has become the most important activity in a lot of these volunteers’ lives.
Since the current round of U.S. wars began, these volunteers have expressed more than 900,000 individual greetings. It turns out that Bangor’s eastern-most location on the map, and its airport’s ability to accommodate large numbers of troops, has turned Bangor into the last spot—and the first spot—of American soil that our troops see as they travel back and forth.
As you watch this film, you’ll see how much this simple greeting process means to our men and women in service.
If you’re not moved when you see the scenes of troops, just back in the U.S., grabbing a cell phone from the greeters and placing their first telephone calls to relatives—then you’ve got a heart of stone. Of course, if you’re reading this story right now, then you’re precisely the compassionate viewer that filmmaker Aron Gaudet had in mind when he devoted several years to documenting the greeters.
Aron has a personal connection, because his mother Joan Gaudet—whose photo is at the top of our story today and who appears throughout the PBS film—is one of the most loyal greeters.
When I reached Aron and Joan Gaudet by telephone to talk about this film, Joan expressed the same heart-felt balance that she outlines in the film itself: “A lot of people, I’m sure, don’t support the war—but they really do need to support the troops and their families.”
Aron said, “As we started making the movie, the greeters explained that they have a list of rules to follow. The No. 1 rule is: Leave your politics outside the airport. We followed that rule in this movie.”
This is not an anti-war film—and neither is it a gung-ho, pro-war movie. The central theme lies in its title: “The Way We Get By.” Aron spent as much time filming the volunteers’ personal lives—and the impact of this community-building activity on their sense of self worth—as he did shooting scenes in the airport.
Love seems to flow in the air among these people: First, there’s the selfless, compassionate love that turns a network of often isolated senior citizens into a lively community. Then, there’s family love—as a member of the Gaudet family winds up deploying through Bangor herself. Finally, there was some romantic love, as well.
Aron told me that his relationship with the chief interviewer in the documentary, Gita Pullapilly, grew quite serious over the years of producing this project. He told me, “Our relationship paralleled the movie. In the course of making it, we got closer and closer. We got engaged and, on October 16, we got married.” (Aron and Gita are in the photo at right.)
At the end of our telephone conversation, Joan told me that the greeting effort has completely transformed her life. She went from anxiety about leaving the house alone after dark—to the point that she now encourages other older Americans to get involved in their communities.
“I never dreamed that I’d be doing something so important as greeting the troops,” Joan told me. “Volunteering to help other people—wound up doing a whole lot for me. It got me out of the house. It helped me meet other people. It’s been great!
“I want to say to everybody out there who has time to volunteer: If you have a chance, get involved in something! You don’t have to be a troop greeter. There are lots of good things you can do. Just try it! You won’t be sorry.”
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(Originally published at https://readthespirit.com/)