Witnessing how our Upper Campus community responded to President George W. Bush’s “Portraits of Courage” exhibit at The Society of the Four Arts has been truly uplifting. This experience has been made possible through a wonderful partnership that includes our Bulldog Outreach Team (led by Katy Thompson, Christi Chane, and Casey Kegelman) and our entire faculty, the amazing staff at the Four Arts, the dedicated team at Forgotten Soldiers Outreach, parent Jennifer Johnson and other volunteers, eloquent visiting speakers, and our very curious and engaged student body.
PBDA Bulldog Military Outreach
The program officially commenced at Assembly on March 25 as three students gave opening remarks about President Bush and the focus of his work after leaving office in 2009. Following, former PBDA parent and retired First Sergeant Matt Eversmann spoke poignantly about the courage and sacrifice demonstrated by the more than one million people who have served in the United States military since the 9/11/2001 hijackings and attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. He reminded us of the significant battlefield casualties of these last seventeen and a half years and that many of those in combat did not return. He also told us that many who survived combat still bear the physical and emotional wounds of war. Sergeant Eversmann and Navy Seal Lt. Commander Hector Delgado, who spoke in Assembly on April 2, know first-hand about the selfless commitment of those fellow citizens willing to give— as Abraham Lincoln said in his Gettysburg Address— “the last full measure of devotion” (see note 1).
Portraits of Courage
The week of March 25, all of our Upper Campus students visited the Four Arts and saw 66 “Portraits of Courage”. They learned about the heroes depicted by President Bush and the brave and sacrificial deeds of these gutsy patriots. We also learned about what President Bush and the George W. Bush Institute are doing to support the surviving veterans — many of whom are struggling to resume civilian life. This support includes job placement, financial help, connecting veterans with one another for mutual support, mental health counseling. So many of these survivors are grappling mightily with post-traumatic stress.
Numerous important lessons for all of us emerge from our study of the many nuances of “Portraits of Courage” including:
- We all have struggles, and we must face them candidly and name them if we are to address them in a healthy way. The inspiring examples of our veterans teach us that we can be and should be “wounded healers” (see Henry Nouwen) and in our weaknesses, help and comfort others.
- Paradoxically, there is real strength in weakness and in vulnerability. This interesting notion of “bold gentleness” (an expression I heard in a recent homily) comes to mind and is instructive as we consider the bravery and the battles of these men and women who put their lives on the line for us.
- We need each other.
There is also much to learn from President Bush’s carving out a new life through his painting. The silence, the solitude, the focus, and the mindfulness that he must embrace while painting have enriched his inner life and helped him develop enormous empathy for veterans. As a result of that empathy, he has become a source of great support and encouragement to them.
The Importance of the Arts
Other leaders have embraced painting including Dwight Eisenhower and Winston Churchill. Churchill painted some 500 pieces beginning at age 40 in 1915, when it looked as if his political career was over after the the British military’s disaster at the battle of Gallipoli for which he was blamed (see note 2).
Painting— the Arts in general— force upon the artist a measure of quiet that is so healthy. I worry that in the age of the internet and social media, we do not have enough time to be quiet— alone with our own thoughts. PBDA’s strong tradition in the Arts helps give us that measure of solitude we all need to one degree or another.
Our commitment to honoring and remembering our soldiers and veterans will continue in the comingweeks as we collect food and personal care items for the Forgotten Soldiers. On April 25, our Tapestry program — which brings together grades on both campuses —will invite the entire student body to write letters that will go with the care packages our community will have assembled for soldiers currently deployed.
My sincere thanks to all of the people across the PBDA family who have made this wonderful learning and outreach opportunity possible.
Note 1: On Tuesday, April 16 at 6pm, another talk on Abraham Lincoln will be offered. The title is: “Abraham Lincoln— His Character as Reflected in his Reverence for Language”. Please join us.
Note 2: Regarding Churchill, I strongly recommend his book— Painting as Pastime (1948), as well as a very recently published book by British Historian David Cannadine entitled Churchill: The Statesman as Artist (2018)