Last summer I went to the movies with a friend, Mark Epstein. At almost the last moment we decided to go see the War Tapes. The movie had been made when several members of a New Hampshire National Guard Unit deployed to Iraq early in 2004 had been given cameras. With them they captured the searing sights and sounds and terror and chaos of their own war experience. The film focuses on three soldiers, and the girlfriend, mother and wife they had left behind.
When we left the theater, shaken, I turned to Mark and said, “I wish there was a way I could help. I want to do something, though I don’t know what in the world that would be.” Shortly afterwards, a friend of Mark’s from the West Coast was coming through NYC, and Mark brought us together. His friend, Joseph Bobrow Roshi, was beginning a project called Coming Home (see the Taking Action section of this website), intended to serve Iraq-era veterans and their families and contribute to their well-being and healing. Somehow it all had come together.
I went to California in January, and on January 19 we had a community meeting of about 150 people in Berkeley, where I spoke, along with Joanna Macy; Col. Darcy Kauer, Commanding Officer, First Marine Expeditionary Force, and founder of the Warrior’s Transition Program, Camp Pendleton; and former Army Captain Stefanie Pelkey, whose husband had committed suicide about a year after returning from Iraq. There was so much incredible suffering opened up, and also so much understanding and compassion as people reached out to one another.
The immensity of the human spirit was exemplified for me the next day, in the workshop we held just for veterans and their families. As we did the introductory go-around, a young man of 23 or 24, who had been blown up in Iraq on his 22nd birthday, who was now half blind and largely deaf, with traumatic brain injury, told a little of his story and then said, “I’m here to see if I can help someone.”
I think of him, and his comment, many times a day. I hope, as I face challenges small and large, I can come close to his level of connection. As happens so often, I felt like I received much more than I gave.