But she couldn't wipe away the pleading look in her eyes, nor the elevated level of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) that was crumbling her life. I gave her my business card and my heart and asked her to call, if I could ever help. Unable to speak, she simply nodded yes! I again whispered into her ear that I know she needed to be strong, but to never ever forget that she was human and that our tears and emotions are exactly those things that make us human. I fear she is in trouble.
She turned and I watched her walk away. I remembered words I heard somewhere, "People may forget what you said, and people may forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel." In this case it went both ways.
E. was a combat medic, alone now in a strange town with his little five year old daughter, who he described as his "sole reason for living." He wants to become a social worker. Hungry for friends, he too needed someone to listen. Two other of our Penny's From Heaven Foundation volunteers visited with him and then introduced him to me. It was quickly apparent that he needed someone to listen, and hear, and he needed a hand up. I complied.
Then in almost synchronized appearances, six soldiers were attrached to our table by the soft, soulful eyes of our Soldiers' Angels Support Dogs at this Yellow Ribbon event. Each one explaining they had PTSD and needed information on how to get a dog trained or to get a dog to help them through the horrors of this disease. Trying to be strong, each to some degree appeared on the cusp of deterioration in a place where courage, bravery and bravado is overcome by isolation, fear and desparation. We were able to illuminate some of the dark corners of their world and offer them information and hope. I for one was grateful to them for their honesty and ability to touch and awaken once again that place within me where human feelings live.
I wanted to say we never are given more than we can handle, but the words seemed trite and inappropriate, considering the depth and intensity of their pain. When people said that to me on occasions, I wanted to hit something. "You can't possibly understand, you don't have to live through this. PTSD and Panic Disorder are hell. You have no idea."
War, rape, death, cancer are words I can write, and write about, but can only pretend to comprehend. They have no reality to me, but people's pain I feel intuitively. I have a depth of compassion for them I often do not understand or comprehend. I want to believe that "kind words are jewels that live in the heart and soul and remain as blessed memories years after they have been spoken." (Marvea Johnson) But stringing these 'kind' words together, like beads, is laborious and arduous and takes it toll on me.
This day I was in the presence of angels - angels delivering a handful of soldiers who are in their darkest and rainiest days. Who knows if the sun will shine again for them. But perhaps for a moment our Soldiers' Angels Support Dogs were able to be a catalyst for hope. As we said thank you to these men and women who laid their lives on the line, lost the future they had hoped for, lost family members, and faith due to the horrors of PTSD, 'I felt it shelter to speak to them' (Emily Dickinson), as I hope they felt in return. Our dogs and teams gave them the greatest gift of all, their time and presence.
Exhausted mentally, physically and emotionally we packed to leave. Dogs and owners, spent completely. But not before stopping in the hotel lounge to have a drink and some nachos. We too needed to nourish our souls, and find laughter and courage and friendship within our ranks. The dogs slept at our feet while numerous people stopped by to pet them, smile, and then walk on. The Crowne Plaza Riverwalk Hotel is greatly appreciated for having the vision to recognize Penny's From Heaven Foundation's Soldiers' Angels Support Dogs, in the hotel, in the restaurant, and sleeping soundly in the lounge after a hard day's work.
Sometimes, as Max Lucado said, "The people who make a difference are not the ones with the credentials, but the ones with the concern." Today we cared, we listened, we counted, we made a difference."