One of my friends sent me an email after watching the Oscars. Karen said "I thought of you when I heard Reese Witherspoon's Oscar acceptance speech, quoting June Carter as saying, "I'm just trying to matter." Karen also told me that I matter and "Thanks for keeping our priorities straight and our eyes on the prize".
I heard Reese quote June Carter and I thought "me too!". I didn't choose this path I am on, but I am trying to matter. I am trying to make a difference. When my only child, Lt Ken Ballard was killed in Iraq on 5.30.04, it became really important to matter. Ken's voice might have been silenced that day, but mine wasn't. If I don't speak out and tell the the President - to remain silent is to let you think I approve or support your actions- I do not.
Even though I share a sentiment that the majority of Americans share- that the troops should come home from Iraq, I know I set myself up for criticism when I speak out. I can take the hits and while mostly there is support, I have met my fair share of mean people. Mean, mean, mean. I was speaking in Illinois late last summer. I had just said that I don't get to plan a wedding, I get no grandbabies because my only child was killed in Iraq. I don't think that required a response, but I got one- a woman shouted "Everyone dies!" Everyone dies at age 26 in a war that should never happened? I hope she never has to know what that feels like.
I tell Ken's and my story in front of groups and I tell our story when I am standing in line, or on an airplane, or in the airport or the grocery store. No one is safe from hearing our story, really. I don't feel fully dressed unless I wear a button with Ken's smiling face on it and I wear a pin with an American Flag and a Gold Star Flag. I make it easy for people to ask who is that man? What's on your button? I suspect some people regret asking me, but I don't. Some people cry when I answer. And always, when they hear our story, they can never again say they haven't been touched by the war. If they don't listen (and that rarely happens) I'll go to the next person and the next and the next. If I have to talk to every single person in this country, one by one, then I will do it. People will know that there is a war going on and our son's and daughters are dying every single day. If I miss talking to someone, surely one of my Gold Star mom or dad friends will find them and tell their story. I belong to a group called Gold Star Families Speak Out and we do speak out. Bring the troops home now, take care of them when they get here and never let another war like this happen. All of our stories are sad and need to be heard. Please never say you have not been touched by the war, at least try to understand our new normal.
When I find out that people listen to what I say, then it is somewhat of a validation and I appreciate it. Earlier this week, I received official notification that my State Assemblywoman, Sally Lieber (D-San Jose), Assistant Speaker Pro Tem of the California State Assembly, announced the selection of Karen Meredith, Gold Star Mother and peace activist, as 'Woman of the Year' for the 22nd Assembly District. Ms Lieber kindly said
"Karen Meredith has turned her pain and grief into action," said Assemblywoman Lieber. "She is a powerful moral presence and important voice for peace and understanding. I am humbled to have the opportunity to recognize her personal sacrifice and dedication."
Thank you, Sally. I am always grateful to my family and friends who support and encourage me.
I'm just trying to matter.