Sen. Tammy Duckworth reflects on hardships that have defined her: 'You will re-emerge'

WASHINGTON D.C. (HawaiiNewsNow) - In the ongoing CBS series "Note to Self," U.S. Sen.Tammy Duckworth, a McKinley High grad, reflected on her time in the military and pushing ahead after nearly being killed in war.

Duckworth, D-Illinois, who became the second Asian-American to serve in the Senate (after U.S. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii), was born in Thailand but spent some of her youth in Hawaii. After graduating from McKinley, she attended the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

And this week, Duckworth became the first U.S. senator to give birth while in office with the arrival of Maile Pearl Bowlsbey, her second child.

Before she gave birth, the 50-year-old double amputee and junior senator looked back at some of her life's milestones in this note to her younger self.


Dear Tammy,

I know you're busy focusing on acing that test or winning that next track medal, but I want you to take a step back. 

No matter how hard you try-and you will tear yourself up inside trying-you never will achieve that 4.0 GPA and you'll never be that high school track star that you (and your parents) wanted you to be. But you'll learn that perfection isn't what matters. It's how you respond to hardship and failure that defines you.

You'll see it in your daddy's eyes when his failure to prepare, make tough decisions or set his ego aside leads to years of struggle for your family. 

You'll be hungry, relying on food stamps to feed yourselves. You'll be nearly homeless, having lost almost everything important to you. But you'll see how your family works to recover. 

You'll learn that gratitude is essential, and you'll learn how to survive a tough time-which is good, because you're going to need that skill again.

You'll join the Army, and you will have two very different lives. Your first will be on a path towards a happy life and happy family, with achievements in the military and a chance to travel and see the world. 

But that wonderful life will end so abruptly it'll feel like a death, and it will put all the rest of your plans-for your family, for your career-on life support.

You will almost die, but you'll make it-just barely. Your survival won't have anything to do with your own abilities-you'll make it out alive completely because of the grit, sacrifice and outright heroism of others. 

You haven't done anything to be worthy of their sacrifices, but these heroes will give you a second chance at life anyway. 

Your second life begins when you wake up a few days later in agony. Non-stop, unrelenting, seemingly-endless agony. 

But you will reemerge. 

Sure, you'll be angry, vengeful and scared but, most of all, you'll dig into the deepest part of you and find a way to survive it. 

You'll be so grateful and proud not just of your husband who becomes your champion, but of all those who sacrificed to keep you alive. You'll have to learn to walk, eat, bathe, and do everything else again by falling, crawling and pulling yourself back up. 

You'll remember that you are a Soldier and that you will never give up, never abandon the mission and that as an officer, it is your responsibility to care for your troops. 

Because of that mission, you'll meet a powerful man, Senator Dick Durbin, who, instead of seeing someone pitiful and broken in a wheelchair, sees you as someone who can help make your nation better. 

He'll challenge you to once again serve your nation, but this time by running for Congress. 

You'll fail. You'll lose the race. But this time, instead of just a personal failure like a bad grade or a swing and strike, the world will know that you failed. But somehow, it won't be as devastating as it would have been in your first life. 

Just a few years later, you'll find yourself in the best position you've ever been in to repay those who sacrificed for to save you. You'll be a United States Senator. 

You'll see the difference you can make in people's lives-your achievements now can actually make the nation you love a more perfect union. 

And you'll be proud of it all-but as happy as you are to be able to help people, the best part of your second life will be you finally getting to have the family you've always wanted.

Senator Tammy Duckworth

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