As many of you know, I have to wear very dark, high-contrast sunglasses in the daylight,  as my auto-immune condition has caused my vision to white out.  What this means is that normally, when I’m outside during the daylight, I can see forms alright, but all the colors are muted or lost.

This morning, while I was out dog walking, I came upon what I suspected was a gorgeous bush in bloom.  I decided to lift my glasses just to see if I could catch any of its color.  Some days the daylight is low enough that I can actually take in some color for a few moments before the light begins to create a strobe-light effect in my eyes, which is painful.

Low and behold, I lifted my glasses and I saw the most magnificent, bright pop of yellow.  It was breathtaking!  I just stood there taking it in; marveling at its saturation of color.  I turned to see what else I could witness.  The grass was so bold and vibrant.  I could even see some color variances within it.  That green!  It was unbelievable!  I felt such overwhelming gratitude, that my eyes welled with tears.  The beauty was beyond my comprehension.

It made me think of the gratitude that comes from loss.  As we prepare to celebrate Memorial Day, to honor those who have served, and those who have given their lives in service to our country, and all the families who have been affected, we are all filled with gratitude for the blanket of freedom that we are allowed, and continue to thrive in, in this country.

My passed grandfather, Lee C. Swartout, was the only military member of my family.  He served in the Navy during World War II.  When I see photos of him from this time, I think of how young he looked.  How, when I was that age, the idea of such a sacrifice never even entered my mind.  I know few stories of my Grandfather’s service, except how one night he was nearly crushed between two huge sailing vessels.  He never spoke to me of any combat he encountered; perhaps he never experienced any, or perhaps it was to shield me.  When I take time to place myself in his shoes, I am amazed at his bravery.  To leave your home, your family, and friends; to not fully know the terrain you will endure, or the situations you may encounter, the fear, or need to take another life, or the risk to your own life- I honestly can’t grasp it as I sit at my kitchen table writing this.  It seems beyond what any person could truly understand, and yet there are thousands of amazing men and women who live this daily.  I am so humbled.

As I freely write to you each week about the things that interest me, I don’t have to question if they will be censored.  I know that I can fully and safely express myself, with the only threat being you don’t enjoy a particular column.  This is really quite huge.  As I listen to NPR and hear tales of persecution still happening today in so many countries around the globe; people sacrificing their lives to do the very thing that I casually do every Saturday morning from the comfort of my home.  I am so blessed to never have to hide my soul, or risk my life, to express myself.

And when I think about the melting pot that is America; how we are great because of the combined appreciation and respect for varying cultures and nationalities.  How taking in others from persecuted lands has offered us all growth by respecting their trials.  Perhaps because I live in Chicago, I experience this melting pot on a daily basis.  Last Summer I attended a Harry Krishna festival at the beach by my house and participated in a ritual chanting meditation that is part of their practice; it was beautiful.  Getting to witness other religious practices and celebrations is such an incredible and sacred experience.  I didn’t attend with the idea of being swayed, but rather to merely appreciate their beliefs.  I often think how boring life would be if we were all the same.

I look forward to being in Union City over the holiday weekend and attending the parade.  I’ve always loved the huge American flag that cascades down onto Main Street, and how we all venture to pass under it.  Thank you to all who serve, and have served.  I am grateful for my freedom, and I respect its immeasurable cost.  I am proud to call home- the Land of the Free, and the Home of the Brave.

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