Our hearts will never be the same again. I say that not as a convenient phrase to make some melodramatic point, but rather to reveal a truth. I do not know when I have been so touched in such a short amount of time by the telling of a child’s brief story. The first in my memory would have been of Moses in the bulrushes and how his mother weaved a sturdy reed basket to float him in nearby waters to save his life. The second would have been when I read the book by Dale Evans Rogers (Roy’s wife) when she wrote the story of their only child Robin who died of Down’s Syndrome. It was called Angel’s Unaware.
Tuni’s story was much like Robin’s but with a sad and poignant twist.
Tuni did not come into the world as one born to two loving parents of wealth and stature. Rather Tuni was born into poverty in India and coupled with her fate of being a girl were her health challenges; Down’s Syndrome and congenital heart complications. Found under some underbrush, in bushes, she was turned over to health officials who could not find anyone to take her. That is until they remembered that “fanatical, red-haired woman from America who had a home for girls with disabilities in Calcutta”.
Their last resort was to contact her, Dr. Michelle Harrison at her Children’s Preserve called Shishur Sevay. Here is her description of the visit and what followed: They came to visit to ask if we would take her. She has Down’s Syndrome and congenital heart malformation. She came to Shishur Sevay just three weeks ago. On Tuesday, 14th August, she will have surgery at Medica Superspecialty Hospital with a leading surgical team. This little baby has made an amazing journey from under the bushes hours away from Kolkata, to us — Shishur Sevay – and to the surgery she needs to survive. Whatever can be done, will be done. I’m relieved they will operate, as living with a baby who turns blue is not an easy experience for anyone. As the doctor said to me, “It can be lethal.” Tuni has some sort of “wisdom” and awareness….. an amazing little baby who shares her life with us. For the day of surgery all the girls will go, a big crowd of family as is the Indian custom, and we will wait, and ponder, and pray for her survival.
It was upon receiving Tuni that Michelle began sharing the story of the desperately ill child she wanted to save. One of the first challenges was to get her oxygen in the home when she began to have “blue” spells due to the severity of her heart problems. Arranging immediate medical assessments at some of India’s finest medical facilities, Michelle was not surprised by the diagnosis, nor the news that children like Tuni were usually not surgical candidates until they were nearer one year old.
The bonding began immediately between Michelle and Tuni, and Michelle’s expertise as a medical doctor of distinction in the United States before “retiring” in India to begin the combined home and school for the girls, was of great help. It was evident that Tuni was “thriving” despite the severity of her illness.
Here Tuni (left) is enjoying “lap time” with Michelle and Archi.
Getting lab work and tests done with one of the “family”.
The settling in time was brief and the assessments that had been made were short lived. Tuni’s condition worsened and time became the enemy. The surgery to correct her heart condition had to happen right away. Confident of the fine care and skill available to her, Michelle and “representative family” took Tuni to the hospital for her procedure. As Michelle would say, “We are civilized here in India, and family must accompany and stay with the patient.
Here, Michelle and Tuni share the bed the night before surgery.
Michelle was allowed to “gear up” and be in the surgery suite to “support” Tuni, even being able to lay her hands on Tuni’s head during the procedure.
The surgery on such a fragile baby was a two day roller coaster ride with highs and lows, and despite valiant, competent and loving action by her surgical team, Tuni lost her battle to remain at Shishur Sevay with Michelle and the girls.
Michelle notified us on Facebook; those faithful, loving supporters all over the world who had grown to love this little girl from the bushes. She wrote:
“We will be bringing her home. This is the custom and we will dress her and cover her with flowers. We are looking at Hindu burial grounds as is custom and will bury her today. But we will pray for her spirit in all religions. Personally I just want to turn back the clock and have her back with us giggling and babbling.”
So it was accomplished that Tuni was buried by loving and tender spirits whose lives had been touched by her. She was believed to be 7 months old and in that short time she had touched the lives of those who found her in the bushes keeping her in a hospital for three months trying to place her. She touched even more lives as she joined the others at Shishur Sevay and was “immortalized” via that amazing thing called Facebook where a legion of followers joined in prayerful support for her and those who cared for her. The prayers were from many countries, faiths and were heartfelt and in unison with one accord; Tuni….actually, now it was Tuni Harrison.
So the “Throwaway” became a “Stowaway” in the hearts of people across the world, and so she shall remain. Her life is a reminder that the spirit of love, hope, and genuine caring transcend all belief systems, personal interests, politics, and naysayers. Her life, brief as the flicker of a candle in time, lit the darkness for just long enough to make a difference. As men, women, young and old sat with tear stained faces at the news of her passing, a beautiful thing happened. A lesson of love and compassion was re-learned and reminded us that in the cold, hard, war-torn world, the plight of an innocent can still bring us back to our knees and cause us to re-evaluate what is right, what is good, and what is needed to bring peace.
Out of the mouths, and perhaps lives of babes, still come the answers for our world.
A Black History Story
Dr. Ida Johnson
By Joyce Godwin Grubbs
For years, the people who know and love Dr. Ida Johnson have tried to convince her to write a book and tell her story. Humble to the core, she wrote them off as “nice folks who loved her”. What could be so special about a single mom who survived domestic violence and raised her family “the best she could?” It took a powerful wakeup call from a “neutral source” to teach her that being humble can be a stumbling block to “a blessing to others”.
Meadowlark Lemon is a man admired throughout the world. When he received an invitation to speak at Dr. Ida’s fundraiser to benefit her organization “United Neighbors” in Davenport, Iowa, as is his practice he researched the organization and person involved in the request. Dr. Ida was pleased her invitation, on behalf of the organization she founded, was accepted. She was surprised when Mr. Lemon spoke with her privately during his visit and asked if she had ever considered writing a book about her life. He said while researching her he found things that should be shared. When Meadowlark Lemon asks the question, one does not dismiss it. His suggestion still resonates as she is now 72 and it is a time of reflection and consideration as to her legacy.
As a small child, she was part of civil rights marches accompanying her minister father. He included his entire family in the marches and sit-ins of the era. Dr. Ida shared with a correspondent that she remembers being “called everything but a child of God” as her family was spat on and shoved. She could relate to this young girl in Little Rock, Ark. Her grandfather told stories of accompanying his father into the south to steal “slaves” and bring them out to live free. Her beginnings with the white world were shaky at best.
As a young churchwoman, Ida fell in love, married, and had a family. It was not ideal and she was the victim of violent domestic abuse. In an attempt to save her life, she ran, taking her children with her to the state of Iowa. Forced to accept welfare and live in a poor neighborhood while fighting to keep her family intact and fed, she made sure it was as short an experience as possible. She began to bring neighborhood children in to her living room for games, and learning activities. From that humble beginning more than thirty-five years ago, she now has a formal non-profit that serves hundreds a day and she quickly moved off welfare, never to go back.
United Neighbors provides after-school tutoring programs, summer programs, “Juneteenth” celebrations, food and clothing programs and she is known as the Mother of the Central City. Her programs help access health benefits, rent, and housing advocacy. The hardest and most emotional contribution has come in these last years as she finally began to speak out on domestic violence and encourage young women to seek help and educate them on the facts that may save their lives.
Among the honors she has received is the Martin Luther King Award for Service, an honorary Doctorate from St. Ambrose University, recognition at city, state and national levels from government and civic groups. She has testified before legislative bodies nationally and is recognized as an authority of positive change in urban neighborhoods. Most recently she was chosen as the 2009 Iowa African American Women’s Leadership Conference as one of three Honorees for outstanding contributions to the mentoring and leadership of African American women in Iowa.
Ida is courted by politicians on both sides of the aisle, and is an integral part of planning strategic programs to benefit the minorities in her city and her state. She is a strong woman of faith and holds leadership in her church, and as a role model for Christian women. Dr. Ida Johnson is truly a humble and vital woman.
In the early years as she struggled to move her work from her home to a formal organization and permanent building. She was often attacked and called a racist by the insensitive and the uninformed. She never backed down, and all the while enduring continuing hardships and losses. She lost a son, and her youngest child has grown into adulthood with a difficult to control seizure disorder. At seventy-two, Ida still cares for her grown daughter in her home, while maintaining a forty-hour + workweek in her organization.
This correspondent can testify first hand to a great legacy of Dr. Ida Johnson’s as she has worked to balance the racial fields of endeavor for whites and blacks. For more than thirty years, Ida “covered the back” of this correspondent as we both fought in the inner city for the “underdogs and downtrodden”. We enjoyed the title, “The Salt and Pepper Team”. If Ida was attacked as a racist, I validated her, and in return, if I was accused, she validated me. When I ran for office, she made sure I was heard though we were of different political persuasions at that time.(I remain an independent) When she was turning seventy we celebrated thirty five years of friendship by taking a trip together to New York City to see Fantasia in “The Color Purple”. A fitting choice considering our backgrounds.
Black History, like any history, is made up of many small events, individuals and those who stand out not because they are famous, but because they are persistent in their beliefs, consistent in their efforts and they prevail because they never quit. Dr. Ida is all of these things, and continues in the city of Davenport, Iowa to make a change for the better, to close racial divides, and to champion those who seek the American Dream, which has no color.
MIRACLE, MESSAGE, OR MISLEADING? A “Life after death sign”
It was just a simple garden angel, but I knew it would mean so much to my best friend; something beyond the flowers, card and other sentiments we had expressed when her mother Lydia Weber died. This would be lasting and a reminder of so many things when one looked at it. It went without saying that we all thought Grandma Weber was an angel, and her cherub like face and nervous giggle were two endearing qualities everyone associated with her when first they encountered this gentle and unassuming woman. As my children grew up they would carry flowers to her house knowing the reward would be cookies, hugs and “giggles”. Lydia had made it to her 90’s and her daughter Darlene said when she found her that morning in her bed, she was smiling as though she had just seen the most wonderful sight. I said I imagined she had seen her husband Carl returning to take her with him so they would never be separated again.
Flowers were something everyone associated with Grandma Weber who was “claimed” by the entire neighborhood. In a neighborhood with all parents working, Lydia filled the void of “old fashioned, traditional, grand parenting.” If you were sad or down, cookies; if you were happy and up, cake. If you were just plain showing up at the door, one, then the other. Food fixed everything, and indeed, the way she cooked, it did
.Thus the continual flow of flowers from all the neighbors, and the constant acknowledgement of how beautiful her dozens of lilac bushes were (even though it was one of the things that triggered my allergies the worst.) But of all the flowers, it was roses she loved best and that is what made this story so poignant, and the note I received from her daughter Darlene just today. Years after Grandma Weber passed on.
Finally got prints made of the pictures I took of the rosebushes that grew after I put the angel you gave us outside with them. As I told you, I wouldn’t allow it to be put outside when you gave it to me for fear it would be damaged. I know, it was a garden angel for the outdoors, but it was so precious to me I didn’t want to risk it. As you know, Mom loved her roses and we planted some in the front of the house on either side of the front door while she was living. You remember how she loved them and had them in her room in a bouquet whenever possible. However, when mom died, so did the roses. Nothing could save them, and nothing made them bloom ever again. Last year Jim decided to bring some rose bushes from our back yard to the front and “try again” with roses where mom’s had been. Nothing happen, and not one bloom. We were just about to give up and let them die when Jim decided that angel should go outside in the garden to make it look nice since nothing else was there to make the front special. Lo and behold, there was an immediate change in the bushes, and suddenly there were buds, then blossoms. After all these years in that hard clay ground, changing nothing but the addition of your little garden angel, the roses are back.
Now you know Jim and I aren’t sure what to make of this, but after talking to you on the phone, I guess I can admit “Mom’s happy now” and that somehow, the angel needed to be there “where Mom would have thought it belonged.”
Note in the left hand corner, barely visible due to the time/date stamp by the camera, is the little garden angel they sat out by their door.
Y0u can take from this small story what you will, but in Wisconsin, there is a daughter who I believe got a “sign” from her mom, and even the “practical son in law” feels “touched” by it all.
I have written before about “Signs” from my sister, and also my mother in “Mourning Doves, Forever Loves” but you must decide for yourself. As for me, I continually tell everyone that after my death I shall be the whisper in your ear, the irreverent intrusion of the song “Oklahoma,” and the impractical insertion of humor into your day when you least expect it, and you will think of me. When the greyhound runs by you, violets are growing in a pot and you have an unbidden urge to buy them, you look a homeless person in the eye and find yourself smiling when you remember how I loved them, you will have had a sign.
There is a wonderful verse in the Bible that reminds us that “You have not, because ye ask not.” Dare to believe that love is not relegated to the grave, but lives in flourishes of time to revisit those whose lives have touched and whose souls are intertwined forever by the moment.
Pictured is Craig Dahms with a special Coin sent to him by one of the top researchers of PTSD after Craig shared one of his writing with her. He is rightfully proud of the token.
It is a definite honor for me to have the trust and permission of my friend Craig Dahms to share this article with you. For the last year I have been privileged to mentor Craig in his aspirations to become a published author. He is laboring hard on his memoirs which he entitled; Too Much, Too Soon, Too Often. I came to know first hand that the title fits the content and that this Iowa boy who was the product of the culture of the 60’s, would enter the military through the draft and soon be thrown into Vietnam in its rawest form. Although he would achieve a position as a radio technician, skilled in field repairs and maintenance, he would be a part of the elite Blackhorse Regiment which was a revered military fighting machine and thus took Craig Dahms with them into the bowels of hell in Vietnam. He sustained an injury beyond the physical and spent the next dozen years in and out of treatment for PTSD. Today in his sixties, he lives quietly and independently in his own apartment with his parakeets keeping him focused on their care intermittantly, as he sits nearby writing poetry, memoirs and the thoughts I am about to share with you.
It has been my goal to see Craig know the fuflillment of seeing his words in print and to that end, I selected this piece for his debut in the printed word. It is a simplistic outlook on solving a critical need among troops who return from war. Indeed his return was more than 40 years ago, but the yearning for that feeling of camraderie and belonging never leaves. Despite the tragic devestation of his life goals as a result of the PTSD, one senses a gentleness and an acceptance of his life as it played out. One is honestly shown the humbleness of a man who fought for his country and fought back when war took his mental health hostage, and he had to fight that war alone.
I salute my friend, Criag Dahms and am grateful for his service. I am grateful that he was one of those who “we learned through” as we found out about Post traumatic Stress Disorder and that we are blessed to know that he has come to a place in his life where he is at peace. God Bless, dear friend.
By (Former) Pvt. Craig Dahms, 11th Calvary Blackhorse Regiment, Vietnam
My objective is to preserve and strengthen the camaraderie formed in regiments by standing for the dream that someday all Troopers will feel warmer toward each other. There has to be a warmer way. This country needs wamrth and a steady hand, much like a newborn colt needs help to protect it from the different elements of nature. My dream is to bring warmth into every Trooper’s heart.
Some Keys for the Blackhorse Regiment to come together are honesty, trust and warmth–then friendship. The deeper the friendship, the more Troopers will care for each other.
Through my observations, I’ve found that life can be sweet or sour depending on how you handle it. If you are not prepared for life when you leave the nest, you are going to run into problems you don’t know how to handle. Too many problems will make you sour, mainly from being disorganized and unknowledgeable about the facts of life. IF, however, you are aware when you leave the nest of how to handle problems at a moment’s notice, life will be sweet.
Dealing with the general public is a lot like a sports game: sometimes you’re on the offense–the ball is in your court–and sometimes you are on defense: the ball is in theirs.
Lady Luck is a state of mind. It mostly has to do with how a person’s mind works. For example, if your mind works in a negative fashion, Lady Luck won’t be with you. If your mind works positively, however, she will.
There is no such thing as good sense and bad sense. The laurels of your fate–your karma–will guide your tour. Once you have your timing down pat and you’re looking out, life is a breeze.
A person should know what it is and whether it is right or wrong. When life begins to seem like a roller coaster ride, you should try to take time to think about what you’re doing and correct your life pattern to keep it on a more even keel.
If we, as a people, as Americans, could teach one another and learn that we should be warmer toward each other, we would grow stronger and more stable as a country. In the long run, it would be better for our children.
A person almost has to have a political mind to survive in American Society on a day-to-day basis–life is just so complex. And with the differing mentalities in the country, it’s almost impossible to get along unless you have an attitude of acceptance.
It isn’t so much that cold hard cash rubs off on people, making them cold and hard. It’s more the copntrast between how much money the rich have and how little the poor have that causes so many problems in American society today. Not only that, but the system more or less locks people that don’t care into place by making it-what is happening to them, what invisible forces are at work–so hard to figure out. Not being able to follow what’s going on makes people feel lost, like there is no use of trying. Then the people who feel bad about themselves when they go to bed at night start to scheme on ways to get hold of money when all the time they should be thinking about making themselves better. Thinking people, in turn, enrich their personalities more and think less in terms of monetary values. People who look at things in a shallow way are bound to feel cheap when they are around wealthy people, because they think that money is everything.
The mind can be a beautiful thing. It can work in very positive ways. Warmth makes the mind work constructively. Not only does warmth turn the mind on, but when it is taken away it can turn the mind off. If there is no warmth to fall back on, the mind can never work in a positive way. And if the mind never finds a positive way–unless there is self-love it will never work properly. If people love themselves and have warmth to give e, they will always find warmth in return.
“Once you have learned to be warm, you have learned to live.” Craig Dahms
A WORD FROM CRAIG DAHMS: (Taken from one of his letters to query and inform others of his work.)
I am a writer focusing on my biographical experiences as part of the 11thCalvary Blackhorse Regiment in the 1960’s, and my service in the Vietnam War. I include my thoughts concerning the war and those events that followed as I struggled with PTSD following my release from the service and subsequent hospitalizations in mental health institutions. I believe my writings might be a catalyst for others who have suffered, and for those who have been suicidal at some point.
I write so others are able to see that there is life and hope for something better. Today I live comfortably on my own and enjoy driving my PT Cruiser to visit many places and participate in many activities as I begin to write in a more serious fashion working: toward the opportunity to be published.
I sent a copy of my 18,000-word autobiography summary to some people including General Sherman Crow who at that time I sent it was the General and person in charge of the Blackhorse Regiment. He sent me a response with the challenge to “keep writing”. For the sake of others, I shall. I have also written a piece on my thoughts regarding what we should do about our outlook on life and the need to be warm to others. I believe we need to show them caring attention to aid their pain in experiencing PTSD and other war related problems.
My friend Craig Dahms received his bronze star years after his service, and hospitalizations. He did not realize what it meant, quietly putting it away. When I found out about him and his award, I sent him this information. The Bronze Star Medal is awarded to any person who, while serving in any capacity in or with the military of the United States after 6 December 1941, distinguished himself or herself by heroic or meritorious achievement or service, not involving participation in aerial flight, while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States; while engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force; or while serving with friendly foreign forces engaged in an armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the United States is not a belligerent party.