Sunday, July 7, 2013

Chapter Seven - From Memory Lane to the Present


                Over the years, Jack would Live in Chippewa Falls for a time, have many adventures with many friends, be adopted by a black German Shepherd named Shoba, be honorably discharged from the Marines, marry a wonderful woman, have two amazing kids, become a paramedic and end up living in Rochester, Minnesota.

 His wife was a nurse at Mayo, and he was working for an ambulance service in Decorah, Iowa, seventy miles away. After nearly a decade in EMS, Jack was feeling burned out.  He was tired of dealing with people who were sick and injured. Tired of treating those who weren’t really that sick. Tired of battling Death for the life of people from 101 years old down to three months old. Tired of dealing with a manager who seemed more concerned with keeping the hospital administration happy than with how he treated his medics, or how the medics were coping with things they saw day in and day out. He was haunted by dreams of children that had died in his arms, kids he could not save, no matter how hard he tried.

                Without realizing it, he was developing Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. He became short tempered and irritable. Finally, at the request of his wife, he went to see a doctor.  She diagnosed him as probably having PTSD, and after a few worksheets of questions, was positive beyond a doubt.  Jack went to see a counselor, not really thinking that it would help much. But to his surprise, it did.  His outlook on things changed. Although his job was challenging, Jack felt like he was good at what he did and he loved and respected the medics he worked with like he felt about the Marines he served with.  But things with the manager were getting worse.  After some serious deliberation with his wife, and not caring much for the hostile work environment that was developing, Jack retired from being a medic and decided to become an artist.  He had started several artistic hobbies while a medic to help him escape from the stresses of the job. He worked with stained glass, became a knife maker, had taught himself to make traditional archery equipment, and had just recently started working with warm and hot glass.

                Life was moving along for Jack and his family. But Jack didn’t feel like he mattered much anymore.  After all, as a Marine he had been a defender of his country.  As a medic he had helped save lives. As an artist… well… he made neat things, but what difference would that make? Fortunately for Jack, he had married an amazing woman who had the ability to not only get to the root of things, but was incredibly supportive of all of his foibles.  As they talked, they discussed God calling people to certain things.  Jack didn’t put much stock in that.  He had never felt “called” to anything. But he did feel like he was meant to serve others. He served as a Marine. He served as a medic. But now, how could he serve?

                He really wanted to be a philanthropist, and be able to make things happen to improve the lives of others. Unfortunately, he did not have the millions of dollars needed to be a philanthropist.  But his wife, over dinner one night, asked him why he couldn’t donate his skills instead of money.  After all, his father had taught him to work with his hands as he grew up, and he was sort of a jack of all trades, and could do some construction and other things.  Perhaps, they reasoned together, he could volunteer with some organization that built houses or drilled water wells or something.  In thinking things over, Jack considered the situation on the Pine Ridge reservation.  It was the most impoverished county in the entire country, with 90% unemployment, high rates of alcoholism, diabetes, suicides. The lifespan for the average male was 47.  Women did a little better with an age of 54.  Jack thought that perhaps he could start an organization that would go to the reservation and fix up houses, put in windows, patch up roofs. Just improve the living conditions a little.  His wife came up with the excellent idea of looking online to see if such a group already existed.

                After some research, Jack found a group doing the exact things he had envisioned.  It was called Re-Member, and took volunteers each week out to help fix up houses on the “Rez” as they called it. The other part of their program was an immersion into Lakota culture, including tours of the Rez, and Lakota speakers who came each night to talk about the history of the people and the problems faced today. So Jack would go to volunteer for a week on the Rez, and see if he could make some sort of a difference to anyone.

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