OPINION – My favorite Christmas stories, both religious and secular, all center on the concept of blessing the lives of others by freely offering needed gifts.
From “The Gift of the Magi” to the impromptu Christmas truce of 1914, the best and noblest examples of humanity and goodwill are easy to observe during this season. They are a welcome break from our society’s unhealthy round-the-clock fixation on the dreadful and the hateful.
Those who would dismiss such sentiments as a misguided quest for a nostalgic happiness that never was are seeing the world through a politics-tainted lens. In reality, there has always been much of what is good and beautiful right before our eyes.
We simply have to be willing to notice it.
Now that the holiday season is front and center in the minds of many, it’s as good a time as any to consider gift-giving in a slightly different light.
It’s easy to narrow our common understanding of gifts to only those things that are either purchased or created and then are wrapped up, delivered and placed under the Christmas tree for someone else to open.
However, this narrow definition excludes some of the greatest gifts of all. These are the gifts we carry with us throughout our lives that each of us develop individually. They are gifts that can be utilized year-round.
For instance, my friend Jacob Dean is an immensely talented metal sculptor and artist. He and I met nearly a decade ago when we were students working to wrap our minds around the classics of Western thought.
I recently became aware of a project that Dean is undertaking that takes his remarkable gift and uses it to create awareness regarding a deadly epidemic of suicides among returning veterans. You can hear my interview with Dean on my radio show here.
Most of us have heard the statistics of how between 20 and 22 vets suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder are taking their own lives each day in America. During our conversation, Dean related how more than 31 percent of returning war vets have a diagnosable case of post-traumatic stress disorder.
He pointed out how we lose far less soldiers on the battlefield these days, but those who successfully return home from the carnage of war aren’t always safe. Many now carry the burden of trying to reconcile their experiences with returning to the normalcy of life.
This isn’t as simple as it sounds.
The hopelessness that many vets feel leads to substance abuse and addiction that, in turn, lead to even greater despair. With nearly 8,000 vets committing suicide each year, the numbers have been steadily adding up. And these numbers don’t include the veterans who survive their attempts at suicide.
To bring greater awareness to their struggle, Dean is putting his gift as an artist to work in a very personal sense.
His project is called “Heart and Mind” and depicts a soldier in full combat gear holding his heart in one hand and his brain in the other. The look of anguish on the soldier’s face, combined with the noticeable hole where his heart was and the missing portion of his skull, tells the story.
He has offered his heart and his mind for a cause greater than himself.
The image is not meant to be stirring and pleasing. It is as provocative as it is loving in its portrayal of an individual who has offered the ultimate personal sacrifice.
Dean explained to me that we have a human tendency to remain apathetic to artistic expressions that appeal to our sense of aesthetics. Artists who wish to convey truth must first move us out of our comfort zone before we begin to take notice.
Dean’s sculpture is intended to stand nearly 15 feet tall. It will be constructed, among other things, from spent cartridge casings – each one engraved with the first name and initial of a veteran lost to suicide.
His project is still in the fundraising stage. Once funded, it will take Dean and his team of fabricators the better part of two years to finish. Once completed, he hopes it will bring to light the realities of PTSD and the need to care for the walking wounded among us.
My friend has an undeniable gift for creating lasting works of art from metal. Instead of using his gift to build a self-serving monument to himself, he is using it to bless the lives of others who are suffering and truly in need.
Each of us has gifts of our own. It’s not uncommon to meet those who have discovered their gifts and developed them. The happiest people we’ll ever meet are the ones who are using their gifts to improve the lives of others.
This is the truest act of selfless giving in which we can engage.
Bryan Hyde is a news commentator, radio host and opinion columnist in Southern Utah. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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