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Stories we listen to

We become the story we listen to. Everyday we get stories from television , newspapers , magazines , politicians and acquaintances - these stories shape our perspectives. Some stories cause anxiety, fear, and worry. Sometimes, these stories lead people to magnify negativity by making it appear bigger than it really is. They keep focusing on what's gone wrong, what’s bad in people. On the other hand , some stories inspire us , illuminate our minds , show us what is possible – but they are often overshadowed by others. In this confusing world , it’s hard to know which story to believe. Perhaps, we can find the answer if we ask these questions: “Who were the storytellers , What story were they telling ?” and, “Were these stories told from the heart?”.

Portrait by Prachurya Baruah, a young artist from India.

Today I am going to tell you a moving story. It began in a Vietnamese orphanage in 1972. The Vietcong were attacking villagers sympathetic to the South Vietnamese and the U.S Military. An elderly villager found a six-month-old clutching her dead mother, still trying to nurse. He placed her in his straw hat and carried her as far as he could before handing her off to Sacred Heart Orphanage. One day, an American Air Force, Sargent James Mitchell, came by the orphanage to drop off clothes and supplies. The nuns in the orphanage put the little one in his arms – Mitchell instantly fell in love. He named the baby Kim and adopted her. Soon she was flown to the United States to start her new life in America. Kim spent much of her younger years on the family farm in Wisconsin. Later she joined the Naval Academy where she served the country for seventeen years. After leaving the military she stayed true to her commitment by serving veterans. This was also a tribute to her adopted father James who was struck by lightening and killed on their farm. She says her work is a way not only to give back to her country but to honor her father who struggled to fit in after retiring from the military.

The amazing journey of Kim, from a Vietnamese Orphanage to rural Wisconsin and then to the Naval Academy, inspired someone in faraway Texas. Her tale ignited his creativity – he took up his paintbrush; working with patriotic fervor , unwavering commitment and unrelenting passion, he created his own vibrant celebration through painting. Friends, don’t you want to know the story behind the story?

In the year 2019, Kim Mitchell was selected to participate in the Stand-To Veteran Leadership Program. The program initiated by President George W. Bush aimed at individuals serving our nation's veterans – to provide them a platform to broaden their skillsets, knowledge, and influence across the country. During the five month long program, the former president came to deliver lectures , interacted with the participants and discovered her story. After sitting with her and getting to know her, the President began painting. Though his mastery as a painter is well acknowledged , it is his humanity and empathy that sets him apart. He truly pierces into the soul of his subjects whose life stories pop off the page. Kim’s story became part of a book titled “Out of many , one” . The book is a collection of portraits of 43 individual immigrants whom the President met during his life. Each portrait is accompanied by a first-person account of the immigrant story. The book teems with deep and evocative meanings, feeling and imagery

I attended the art exhibit, Out of Many One , at the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum here in Dallas. As I was going through each portrait and reading the accompanying story, I felt an inner calm. I imagined how with pencils and then with the touch of brushes those vivid portraits were brought to life. Creating a portrait takes a long time ; the painter needs to sit with the subject and get to know him or her. It must have required a lot of dedication for the former President to complete those 43 full colored portraits and then to publish their accompanying stories – I was amazed. The painting made me emotional , it made me see life with purpose and renewed hope. Friends, today I am honored to unveil a portrait of President George W. Bush. It is a painting created by my friend Hirak an young artist who resides in my hometown in India. Being an immigrant and a resident of Dallas where the president and the first lady live – it’s a moment of immense pride for me.

Friends, everywhere in the world, whether the United States or Russia, Israel or Palestine , India or Pakistan we are fed with two kinds of stories, stories from our heads and stories from our hearts. Today, my heart and my mind are at peace but when they are in conflict, my heart will always win out because I know a good heart is better than all the heads in the world. Friends follow your heart – if you are a poet , make your readers think , if you are a singer make your listeners feel , if you are an artist make your beholders see and if you are a Toastmaster inspire your audience to think, feel, and see the splendor of life. .


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