Monday, June 2, 2014

660 White Crosses

660 White Crosses
By Jamie Turner

            A few years ago, one of my favorite college professors showed us a documentary called “Paper Clips”, about a group of middle school kids in Tennessee who were learning about the Holocaust and the 6 million lives that were lost during that time. Hearing the number 6 million was one thing, but the students were having difficulty grasping the enormity of that number and wanted to know what it looked like. They embarked on a project where they set out to collect 6 million paper clips in order to visualize just how many people that actually was. As news of their project got out, paper clips began arriving from all over the world. To date, the school has received over 30 million paper clips, numerous mementos from Holocaust survivors and their families, and even an actual German rail car that had been used to transport people to the concentration camps. Years later, this movie periodically comes to my mind, as it did this past week once again.

            Last weekend Veteran’s Refuge had a full schedule of volunteering, manual labor, a 5k race, a business plan to write, a competition to enter, budgets to plan, and more. In the busyness of the weekend, it was easy to simply work through Memorial Day as just a day to get things done; conscious of what it meant, but not really fully grasping the solemnity of the day. As we sat here on the couch, me working on one project, Andrew typing away at another, both of our phones received a text message. What I read changed my day, it changed my week, and it changed my month.
            The message was from the father of our friend Zack, who lost his battle with PTSD this past January. The attached photo showed Zack’s dad with his arm lovingly surrounding a white headstone, and a message that simply said, “One of the bravest most honorable people I've ever known. My hero, my son. I miss you Zboy! Even now, I can’t read it or think of his words without tearing up. This is what Memorial Day is all about. Remembering those we’ve lost in the heat of battle, and those we’ve lost since they’ve come home, after fighting PTSD for years.
            The text and the beautiful words stayed with me the rest of the afternoon. An idea was forming in my brain, but I kept telling myself it was too crazy, and there wasn't enough time to plan it out. I kept thinking of the statistic of 22 veterans who commit suicide each day. 22. How many is 22, really? We easily spend $22 on take-out and don’t even bat an eye. What does 22 look like? I thought of Paper Clips, and what did 6 million look like? And, I thought of June. I’ve been planning out our social media campaign, and have had on my calendar for weeks that June is PTSD awareness month. There’s 30 days in June. There’s 22 veteran suicides a day. What does that look like? What does 660 look like?
            By 5:00pm, I still hadn’t said anything to Andrew. We were driving home from our favorite Mexican restaurant when I finally decided to just test the waters and see what he thought. I began with, “So, I’ve been thinking about something crazyyyyy…” Gotta love my husband, he didn’t even bat an eye. Then, I told him my idea. I said I wanted to show what 22 a day looked like, every day during the month of June. I wasn’t sure how it could be done, or if it could even be accomplished in such a short time frame. Should it be flags? Should it be boots? How could we get it done? My brain was spinning a million miles an hour. Andrew listened to my jumble of thoughts, was immediately on board, and drove the truck straight to Home Depot. One quick phone call to Laura, and she signed on to the crazy train too.

            So, for the past week, Andrew, Laura, and I along with family and friends have been working feverishly to paint, cut, and assemble 660 white crosses for our art project. We’ve called councilmen, city managers, and people who might know a guy, in order to locate a piece of visible property we could use for the month of June. And, starting on Monday, June 2nd, our goal is to display 22 white crosses each day, in order to visually show our country’s loss. We have one week’s worth fully assembled in our basement, ready to go. It’s so many. And it’s only a quarter of how many we actually need. I hate that we need even one.
            As we’re working toward building our Veteran’s Refuge, we’re realizing more and more that it’s not just me, Andrew, and Laura. Veteran’s Refuge is all of us together. One of you might be able to help a veteran who is struggling; just by being there for them, sending a text, or connecting them with someone who can help. We recognize we cannot do it alone; in order to succeed, it’s got to be about building a community of support, a network of all of us together, so if we can’t reach one, someone else will be there who can.

            So, this is our big plan. We invite you to come out and see the crosses each day, at 6400 Textile Rd., in Ypsilanti, Michigan. We plan to invite everyone on June 30th for when we put in the last 22 of the month. Come and see what 660 looks like. One changed me. Three were the catalyst for the forming of Veteran’s Refuge. I guarantee 660 will change your life. This is not about a political statement, it’s not about despair and negativity, and in fact it’s the opposite. It’s about bringing awareness and hope, strength and encouragement. It’s about removing the stigma and showing that losing even one is one too many. On June 30th, we’ll look out on a field of 660 white crosses and know that by doing this, by putting ourselves out there publicly to succeed or fail, we’re making a difference. If we can reach just one, then it’s so worth the risk.