Saturday, August 30, 2008

Healing (and Working) As family

Cynthia Orange

(from the Vets for Peace National Conference)

"How do Americans impacted by the war heal while most of America is in a state of denial?" asked Joan Najbar, a psychologist and mother of an Iraq vet in the workshop she led called "Grieving and Healing from the Wounds of War." One way, she said, is to honor ourselves, our losses, and our struggles by:
  • Talking about the impact this war has had on us and our families.
    (This doesn't only mean Iraq and Afghanistan vets. Michael and I know of so many Vietnam vets, peace activists, etc. who were re-traumatized when the U.S. invaded Iraq. We need to acknowledge and honor those old wounds, old scars too that surfaced again as we continue [with no awe but with plenty of ongoing shock] to witness another debacle)
  • Taking care of ourselves, our loved ones, and our communities.
  • Doing what we need to do to heal from the wounds of war, one day at a time. Joan said this could be by being in nature, doing yoga, opening our eyes and hearts to the beauty around us, doing some art [writing, photography, drawing, poetry. . .) by loving. . .
  • Believing we don't have to suffer in silence.
  • Coming together to take care of our veterans and their families.
  • Finding strength when we come together in action, celebration, and self care.

She demonstrated these last points by having those in attendance stand inside a big circle of spandex material we held behind us (sort of like holding a big, contiguous beach towel around you that extends from shoulders to knees). What became immediately apparent was that each of us leaning against the stretchy fabric allowed the others to also lean against it. We provided strength and resilience to each other, but if our "support" was withdrawn suddenly, the entire group was affected.

This reminded me of a story my dear friend Christina Baldwin (author of "Story Catcher") told me about a village in Africa that endured tribal wars where the guerrilla armies of the hill people stole the young boy children of the valley people and forced them to fight against their own tribe. UNICEF heard of this atrocity and decided to buy back the children and reintroduce them to their villages.

The UNICEF workers would drive into these remote villages with several boys who had been gone for two, three, four years; boys whose childhoods had been stolen, whose souls were wracked with the guilt of what they had done. They went to the tribal elders and asked them ‘We have brought them home to you, but they are not the same. What will you do?’
‘We will light a fire in the center of the village every night for a year,’ the elders replied. ‘The boys will be required to come and tell their stories and listen to the reactions of the villagers. We will weep together for what this war has done. We will talk until the war is talked out of them, until the sorrow is healed, until the fire is burned up.’

Christina reminds people that the word "heart" has "ear" in the middle of it, and she urges us to listen with the "ears of our hearts."

For me, this is a large part of what this conference is all about: gathering in tribe as people have done since ancient times; sitting around our metaphorical fire as one family--warriors from many wars, peacemakers from different eras, and fathers and mothers who worry and wait for their soldiers to come home and grieve those who won't return to them.

I walk down the halls of the Ramada and hear so much laughter, witness so many embraces, watch as new friendships are forged, new intense conversations unfold. Attendees go from workshop to workshop (and there are so many diverse workshops), from experience to experience, and emerge revitalized; clearer in their peacemaking tasks, buoyed by just being together in family, as tribe.

As anthropologist Margaret Mead once said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."