How do we honor the fallen? It’s a question that’s been rattling around in my mind for some time.
I teach veterans. I am friends with veterans. I once loved a veteran.
But, the truth is, very few of us know the stories of those who died protecting every freedom we hold dear. What were their final thoughts? What insights would they have wanted the world to know?
I think Portraits of Courage by George W. Bush gets close. Beyond the incredible paintings, Bush penetrates the gaping vulnerabilities left in wounded veterans.
In many ways, it offers a rare glimpse into the painful inside of war.
Clearly, Bush’s work is an attempt at reconciliation. How do you make peace with the war you began? His admirable attempt here is through art: paint those whose lives you forever changed. Every colorful visage is paired with a narrative that Bush crafted in the hours, days, and months that each portrait required to complete.
What’s most surprising about the book, however, is the preexisting relationships that Bush established with the veterans he captured. He recalls meetings, speeches, and even dances he shared with his subjects in the years following their military service. Most notably, he connected with the majority through mountain biking, golf, and other outdoor adventures at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. A former president using his passions and financial resources to further healing – I’ll admit, it’s hard to look at him the same way.
But for every bright spot unlocked in the veterans’ stories, there is darkness. Vivid memories of child suicide bombers, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and ongoing relational challenges.
War is hell, even after it’s over. And perhaps the worst crime we can commit is to forget the precious life that was traded to fiercely protect our own.
Portraits of Courage is a reminder to live with more gratitude, more forgiveness, and more hope – for these should be the legacy we all strive to leave behind.
After we left, women worked in schools, government, business, and where they wanted to. I am proud to be able to help so many women and children gain their identity in families. And I am proud not to let my missing leg, PTSD, loss of hearing, and other disabilities define me.
Sergeant Justin Bond (United States Army, 1996 – 1997 and 2002 – 2005)
One Year Ago: Elusive Icing on the Cake (*Unlearning’s first viral post.)