Yesterday, I drove my hubby to the chiropractor in the nearby town. His back had gone out and he’d been in pain for several days and couldn’t put it off anymore. It was a good visit. He liked the guy, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that he improves – right now he appears to be resting comfortably.
I waited, quite comfortably, in the small office outside the patients’ rooms. The practice is set up in an old wood frame house with a big porch; typical of many southern homes, porches are a feature that every home should have, because they are radically cool for myriad reasons.
As I sat, reading Joe Bageant’s, “Rainbow Pie” on my phone, a slender, tall gentleman walked in. Seventy-five years old (he told me), he stood straight, wore what I call down-to-earth clothes (jeans and a green t-shirt), and smiled nicely, his thinning white hair not detracting from his overall gentle and sturdy demeanor. He sat down, smiled, and I said hi.
He said hello, then a moment or two later, told me he liked my hair. I told him that I cut my own hair – and have for many years – based on the reality that, if I screw it up it will grow back and I can wear a cap. My hair is very short on the right side and longer on the left. He smiled in a puzzled kind of way, and said it looked nice. (I told him that I determined, as a child, that I would not become a Wisdom Elder – remember “old” has been kicked to the curb – and have round hair that you could see through with a slightly bluish hue, like the ladies in the church in which I grew up!)
So, one Wisdom Elder to another, we struck up a conversation. A bit more reserved than I (many people are), we talked a bit about Veteran’s Day, and I discovered that he had been in Vietnam. I could feel a visceral reaction to just the word, ‘Vietnam,’ and verbally trod carefully, because I knew instinctively (having so many friends from that era and some who never came back), that war is painful at many levels to those who were in it; and Vietnam – a bad war to begin with – was even more so.
We talked a bit more, about how he seldom talks about ‘those days’ and how his wife is permanently disabled and he cares for her…how his inner challenges with those days were less important than her issues. Then the doctor called him in.
I read a bit more; talked with a youngster about how cool his sneakers were (he agreed 😉 and read a bit more, awaiting my hubby’s arrival. David (the name of the gentleman) came out beforehand, though, and we thanked one another for the conversation. His smile indicated he was genuine. Then I mentioned a documentary put out by the local news channel on the plight of many veterans coming home from the wars and gave him the name (The Story of Charlie Foxtrot). That visceral reaction I spoke of resurfaced, and he gently told me that thanks, but he doesn’t watch any of those things…that veterans of all kinds just want to talk and talk and talk, and he wasn’t going to do that. He doesn’t ever talk about ‘those days.’ He thanked me anyway. I told him that I respected that, and thanked him again for the conversation, asking him if I could give him a hug. Surprised at his big smile and acceptance of a hug, putting out his arms readily, I gave him as great a one as I could, and wished him a day filled with blessings. At the door, he turned and, smiling, thanked me again for such a good hug. Then he was gone, but he made an impact.
The impact he made on me, reminded me that veterans are always changed by war.
Almost half a million veterans have been dropped by the military – dishonorably discharged – because of medical problems or having tried to commit suicide. Suicide is a huge issue in the military. I absolutely believe that you cannot go to war, with the belief that you are bringing ‘Democracy’ to other countries; saving and protecting your country for the same; and then see what you see; experience children being blown to bits, or dying from the effects of war (and no, I am not debating the pros and cons of who is to blame, because most folks will never understand the geo-political reasons for and implications of going to war or waging perma-war) and not be changed.
When they return, they bring their ‘inside’ challenges and change with them. Their home, their country; what people think is important; may all look a bit different – even though most are grateful to be home.
There is more…but David keeps it all inside. Perhaps caring for someone he loves who has a permanent disability is what actually may keep him together – having to focus on someone else often takes you out of yourself. I could tell, though, that in his quiet, alone moments, there just may come those thoughts and pictures sneaking in. I wish him well, for he appears a nice man.
To finish up, my thoughts always go to folks who – with all good intentions – wave the little flags; wear their lapel pins; don red poppies; and send sincerely-meant wishes and messages of gratitude across social media. Perhaps it serves a purpose more for us than for the vets, I don’t know.
What I do know is that veterans need much more concrete help than they are getting, or have ever gotten – and it needs to be individualized. All conditions resulting from war need to be acknowledged and made part of a veteran’s recovery. We take months to ‘prepare’ them to go to war…to kill…yet, there is no preparation and ongoing assistance for when you get back, expect for a few veteran-based organizations like IAVA (Iraq and Afghanistan veterans association). Way ‘back in the day’ Congress even fought over giving veterans a tiny sum monthly (then it was something like $20), because some said that if they were given that money, they would become slovenly and not work. Yep. Congress hasn’t changed much, have they? My humble suggestion, from the porch, is that we keep on Congress. Don’t give them any more money for war; they have more than enough, and they’ve lost more than a bunch of billions – until they put a clear, ready-to-go program in place to help the veterans – really help. I’d be interested in hearing what ways you would suggest.
So, from my back porch, I bid you a day full of blessings and belly laughs, and sharing in a way that honors everyone in the conversation. Thanks.