Today’s M.I.A.

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April 2, 2011 by David Gillaspie

Don’t Forget

Where do you expect to see this flag fly?

Maybe a war memorial.

A veterans’ graveyard.

In the home of a soldier.

Why is it flying on the Hilton Hotel flagpole in Eugene, Oregon?

Why The Peoples’ Republic of Eugene, home of the University of Oregon and latter day hippieness?

Because lefties don’t forget; stoners don’t forget; and neither should you.

But why the Hilton?

This is a busy crossroads hotel, as busy as an international hub.  ER sirens scream up and down the road.  The train station echoes the train horns as they pull in.  If you didn’t walk outside, you’d think you were in a metropolitan area.

Three main events at the Eugene Hilton show it is big city.

First, the lobby is full of large men, young men and not so young.  The youths are weight room big in the power lifting, bone crunching places.  They’re in town for football clinics held at Autzen Stadium, home of the Oregon Ducks.  Maybe they hope to play college ball here.

The older men, large in the places that grow softer without proper attention, are fathers and coaches.

Both groups share a common dream in sports.  Everyone wants to get to the next level from where they are.  If they are stars, they won’t be forgotten, unless they go O.J.  Then it’s all about selective memory.

These are dreams with tunnel vision; focus on the prize sort of dreams.

They probably don’t see the flag, but that doesn’t mean they’ve forgotten.  The bowed head on the flag could be any of the boys in town, young strappers locked into a rat hole without a key.  No helmet or pads for protection, no secret number to dial for freedom, they’d be as stranded as any American flier crash landing in Europe, Korea, or Vietnam.

Will one of the older men explain the meaning of the flag?

The second event at the Eugene Hilton is the Midwifery Today sponsored Gentle Birth is a Human Rights Issue conference.

Attendees come from around the world to the biggest national gathering of midwives, doulas, nurses and doctors.

They hear that 500,000 women each year die from pregnancy and delivery related neglect.  Four million babies die.  These numbers come from Africa and Asia, including the Middle East.

One speaker said the women dying are the equivalent of a jumbo jet crashing every six hours, except no one hears about it.

The women are not prisoners of war, or missing in action, but they are captives.  They are imprisoned by a culture that holds them in low regard.

Death by anemia, TB, malaria?  Dead is dead, but when it’s preventable if feels more tragic.

If a woman survives pregnancy, she’s still got delivery waiting.  What happens during childbirth with no medical or experienced help?  Shame is not a cultural prerogative.

Imagine the environment of a third-world woman, a teenager, delivering her first baby.  There’s no hot water piped into a mud hut.  Mud is not on the list of sterile fields.

If a woman needs to walk during labor, there’s no back deck on a lean-to.  Is she even stepping outside where the village men gather to read entrails?  Not if it means disgracing your tribe, clan, or family.

It takes strong men to break cultural bonds.  Where are they?

The third major event at the Eugene Hilton is for artists and their work.  Water colorists of all stripes come to learn and see.  Some will leave with a vision renewed, some with their spirit refreshed.

Is an artist responsible for helping the life dreams of young men determined to achieve greatness?  Are they responsible for helping natural birthers’ reach out across the world with a voice ignored in places of high mortality?

What is an artist’s responsibility to the POW-MIA people?

First, the image on the black flag is an artistic rendering from one of them.

Who doesn’t enjoy slow motion football hits played to classical music?  It is beauty in motion, just ignore the current debate over crippling injuries and early death in former NFL players.  When a guy bounces off his head during the 1812 Overture cannon blast we all say wow.

If women and children dying in the millions have no voice, it’s not an artist’s fault.  If they live in a culture that exposes the most vulnerable to the worst end, don’t blame a painter.

Most of all, don’t blame yourself, but the next time you see the black flag of the POW-MIA, do yourself a favor and explain what it means if questioned.  Ask what it means if you don’t know.

Then ask, “Who are the real prisoners; who is really missing?”

It’s a long, long, list.  By asking, you start turning the key in the lock.

Keep asking and they might get a flag, too.

Hey, water color artist, are you listening?

By David Gillaspie


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