Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Waiting on Brother

Asha Murthy MacDonald is an artist.

Much of her life has been spent in Montana.

She has been inspired by God's natural art of land and sky.

A few years ago, she painted a landscape. If you study it closely, you will see subtly a yellow ribbon tied around one of the trees.

When Pete was first deployed to Iraq, we were living in the San Francisco area.

A great friend found her painting in a gallery, bought it, and gave it to us as part of their commitment to remembering Pete and his service.

That painting has had a special place in our home ever since. Especially since November 14, 2007.

In April of this year, American Airlines invited us to help fill a 767 bound for Iraq. Thru the Unsung Hero Fund, we were allowed to put two and a half tons of soldier care packages, soccer balls for Iraqi kids and school supplies on the plane.

I begged my way onto that plane and that trip. And got permission for my youngest son Zac to go as well.

We had no idea who else was on that trip.

We soon learned that Tony Orlando and his band were the key human element as they were going with us to entertain the men and women in the Middle East.

The yellow ribbon has quite a history, but it became really famous as a result of Tony Orlando and Dawn and their recording of, "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree" in the 1970's.

The yellow ribbon became a symbol for families and friends waiting for the return of members of the military away at war.

Tony learned Zac's and my story, and he made it a point to become very close friends. He is such a patriot. Such a giver. Such a supporter of our military.

When we got home from the trip, I tracked down Asha.

I learned that we had the original painting, and that no prints had been made.

I asked if she could make two.

Asha did some research and found that she did have a digital copy.

She made two prints, added some personal color and her signature and sent them to me.

I sent one to Tony in May to thank him for his selfless service to the military.

Surprisingly, I didn't hear back from him. I thought that was odd.

The second print was made to give to the employees of American Airlines for their selfless giving to our military.

I intended to present it to Gerard Arpey, the Chairman and CEO of American Airlines, at some future date.

A few weeks ago, American Airlines sponsored an event called Skyball. It is a huge fundraiser with the proceeds going to support an event called Snowball Express.

Snowball Express is a free weekend of fun for the families of fallen soldiers. American flies the families from around the country to some fun place so that spouses and kids can enjoy a great time and meet each other just prior to Christmas.

I took the print for Mr. Arpey with me to Skyball.

As I walked in, the first person I saw was Tony Orlando.

We hugged.

He asked what I had under my arm.

Sheepishly, I showed him and said, "Tony, have you ever seen this painting?"

He began to weep.

"Alan, this painting showed up a few months ago. It hangs on a wall in my home. I did not know where it came from. I told my wife today that I hoped I might learn who sent it while on this trip. God is so good."

A few minutes later, I had the opportunity to present the painting to Mr. Arpey with Tony at our side.

What a gracious man. What a good man. What a servant. What a leader.

Mr. Arpey was taken aback.

"Thank you, Mr. Burks. Thank your son for his service, and your family for allowing him to serve. I want you to know this will have a special place in my office. And I want you to know I will pray for your family tonight."

The circle was complete.


I needed to tell Asha the story.

I emailed her, but the email was bounced back.

I called the number I had for her, but it was disconnected.

I Googled her and found a connection in Montana. He gave me her new email.

Asha is a new mom. She, her husband and their baby just relocated to Ohio.

I received this email from her today.

Asha to me
show details 3:23 PM (7 hours ago)


Your email made my day and I am so glad that you were able to track me down.

My husband accepted a new job in Ohio this past August, shortly after our daughter was born so we had been in the process of relocating and have finally settled. Since arriving here, I had been feeling less than inspired to paint having to leave our friends, family and beloved home that was Montana. And so my easel had been sitting dormant in our garage for over a month.

Until I got your email today - I am honored to know that my art is so greatly appreciated by those who have done so much for others - yourself included. That in itself is inspiring, so I know you have thanked me for helping you make this all happen, but really, I thank you.

Have a wonderful holiday season.

Best, Asha


  1. Mr. Burks,
    I just wanted to thank you for sharing such a powerful and moving story - and offer my heartfelt condolences for your loss, along with a sincere appreciation for including my wife Asha's work among your measures to seek solace, understanding and sustain memory, which allows one to heal.
    My wife and I met in art school nearly 20 years ago, and though a career in the arts is often tough to maintain, we collectively decided that we would never allow ourselves to fail, and would overcome any obstacles that stood in the way of us being our true selves, and appreciating life as it was meant to be lived.
    While our recent move from Montana, has been among the more difficult transitions we have ever made, it pales in comparison to the transformation you and your family have endured.
    As Asha noted, our relocation has brought us a differnt form of mourning - though in this case for the power of such a compelling place we still call home, the company of true friends and sources of inspiration, which have seemed to all but escape us - Asha most in particular as her easel has remained static in our garage.
    Just yesterday, we both exchanged email in the morning and strangely at exactly the same time, both mentioning the need for her to quite simply, get back on the horse and get back to work.
    It was the irony, timing and nature of your email that called us both to take a deeper look at our lives - appreciating that others have been deeply touched by her work,(something working artists do not often consider) and perhaps a further reminder to ourselves that all things change. And change can also be good - it has brought a new light to our lives, in the form of our beautiful daughter Iyla.
    Inspriation, like blessings, may come in many different forms - and one does not always instantly recognize a blessing in disguise.
    I would like to add that you have served to remind us both, and hopefully many others, the importance in retaining faith and patience in the face of adversity - along with a shared confidence and will to carry on.
    Your words also offer a solid assurance that art indeed has the power to cummune, heal, and a greater abiltiy to enhance and brighten ones life.

    Our thanks go to all those who sacrifice so much to keep our lives safe - our hearts go with you and your family, as we all navigate the uncharted waters of life.

    Best wishes,
    Jeff MacDonald