Monday, May 25, 2009

Honoring the Heart of the Matter...

was the title given to today's tribute to veterans, their families, and their communities by the newly fledged Veterans Resource Center. I went more out of support for my friends Judith and Perry, whose son Orrin has been the inspiration for their involvement in creating the Center, not knowing what to expect.

I sat stunned for two hours, listening to men and women---veterans, children and spouses of veterans, parents of veterans---giving voice to the experience of all those affected by military service and going straight to the "heart of the matter", which is the effect of war on the entire community.

It was a different kind of peace gathering, a different way of honoring vets, an acknowledgement of the wide concentric circles which range outward from one person who goes off to fight.

Titles of some of the readings: There is no Ready; Dude, Where's my Weapon?; I Sleep Next to PTSD; I Don't Know Where My Mind Is; Serving in Silence (by a lesbian); When a Man Kills; Vietnam and Mothers; Healing is Possible.

I'm a person who often, maybe nearly always, puts my feelings about something on a shelf until I have time to mull them over. It's a defense mechanism born of years of living with the need to respond immediately to crisis, with no time to experience the feelings about the crisis. It helps me deal with what's going on but it has, in the past, led to my stuffing feelings and never dealing with them.

I understand myself better now and when I postpone feeling in favor of action, it's with the knowledge that I must come back and revisit my feelings or I will be incomplete in my experience.

During the past several months, as I have encouraged Judith and Perry and watched their efforts to create the VRC pay off, I've revisited old feelings about friends lost in Vietnam, friends who came back maimed in body and mind from Vietnam and Korea, wondering about the effects on others who did not go but lost friends and family members. I've remembered friends who came back and struggled to find a path that would lead them to health, not addiction and violence and suicide.

Two names---John Roessler and Paul Eklund---always come to mind when I think about Vietnam. John was someone I met through my husband; he enlisted when his marriage fell apart and he stepped on a land mine in SE Asia when he had been there only a few months. Paul was the husband of a college friend; tall, quiet, handsome, he was drafted right after their marriage and did not come home again.

A third name---Pat Mendoza---belongs to a living man, one of the first people to ever suggest that I sing, somebody who heard me singing along at a TGIF party in a bar where he was performing, somebody who invited me to get up and harmonize with him on some of the songs. Pat and I sang in smoky lounges and pool halls for tips. He told me that he wrote songs and sang them in order to stay out of trouble. Pat worked at staying sane but he would not talk about Vietnam and what he had done there.

Today's gathering brought tears to my eyes and the realization to my heart that we may have found the answer to war. When we can acknowledge and accept the impact of the individual's experience of war on his or her entire community, in addition to him/herself, when we can see that we ourselves are maimed by another's pain, when we can visualize the effects upon other societies (Iraqi, Afghan, Vietnamese, German, whoever) and understand that what nations do to each other in wartime only compounds the pain and the violence and the vengefulness---perhaps we can find other ways of dealing with our conflicts.

Today felt like a start in that direction.


Berrysmom said...

Kit, this is very moving. I would love to see something like this in my community (south central PA), which is VERY militaristic and has a "my country right or wrong" attitude. We are the home of the Army War College, and also the home of many military retirees.

The approach you describe sounds so honest and open-hearted; it would (should!) appeal to all people regardless of their political feelings about war.

Thanks for letting us know about this. Keep it up.

ms. kitty said...

Thanks for your kind words, Judy. It feels like a breakthrough of an important kind.

In other news, I googled Pat Mendoza and have been in an email conversation with him. He may be able to help the VRC in some way. It is lovely to have reconnected with him.