Monday, November 7, 2011
Moments come and go in our lives...some willingly forgotten and some leaving footprints in places we didn't even know we had.
Saturday I spent several hours with about ten wounded warriors home from Iraq/Afghanistan. There was no applause, no parade, no flag waving. Each had witnessed horrors too awful to speak about. All were facing a new battle, the battle of an invisible injury called post traumatic stress and/or a traumatic brain injury. They were hospitalized in a lock down facility, so they would not cause injury to themselves, as they were treated and attempting to resume some part of a life they once knew...before war, before hell.
I was instructed to leave my purse and cell phone in the car. I could take nothing in with me but a German Shepherd therapy dog named Colonel and his handler. It had taken literally months to gain approval to be admitted to this secure unit. But perseverance paid off. And it paid off in a very big way.
When we first entered the 'day room', it was easy to sense the listlessness, the boredom, the lack of life, and faces staring into space, into a time and place they are not able to forget. Staff was first to say, "Oh look, the Colonel is here!" One guy turned, as if he needed to stand and salute, but upon realizing 'the Colonel' was a dog, he smiled, leaned over to pet him and said "He outranks me." Tortured souls and eyes turned to see exactly what he was talking about. It was then the magic occurred.
Stephen King is quoted as saying, "Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes they win." This I personally and sadly understand all too well. But on this beautiful South Texas afternoon the monsters and the ghosts and the horrors of war didn't win!
Before two minutes had passed one blond headed slender young man wearing gray rubber slippers just stood and stared at Colonel and then at me as he said, 'Until this dog walked into this room, I had nothing! Thank you. Now I feel like I can breathe again, I can live again. My life has changed. Everything has changed."
Every word I write at this moment, everything, every effort, everything I have ever done in my whole life comes looking back at me. It is almost as if nothing prior to those heartfelt words from these soldier meant anything, anything at all. In those words, I realized suddenly what it all comes down to is love. Unconditional, non judgmental love. A choice to commit to something, someone, no matter what the obstacles or temptations might be that stand in our way.
This was further affirmed when we were preparing to leave after three hours, and one soldier came up to me and asked in almost a whisper if I could give him a hug. I said I would be honored. As I did so, I whispered "thank you for your service and sacrifice." Barely audible, as if he were almost afraid to say the words, he asked if I would be back. I told him absolutely. With tears in his eyes, he said, "You have been my only visitor in the four months I have been here. Thank you." I told him that hugs are vital and that we need that connection to live. I hugged him again and had the sense he never wanted to let go. Perhaps because I felt the same.
Maybe, just maybe, the choices and decisions and roads I travel and make day in and day out, year after year, say more about love than never having a choice to make at all.
So today I ask you to "listen to your heart. Because wherever your heart is, that is where you'll find your treasure." ~ Paulo Coelho
On this day I became more clearly myself. On this day I understand that God is inside of me, showing me the direction to take and who might need a hug more than anything at all. Offering hope and healing and hugs and understanding just might change a life, save a life. On this day I realized who I am, where I have been and most importantly, where I am going.
It was interesting to observe each of the dozen or so warriors allowing their comrades to have some private time and space with Colonel. Then the next would come up and snuggle and give belly scratches and utter private words that only the Colonel could hear. This is all that was needed. They would ask his name and about what had happened that he had had to have a leg amputated. "I want a dog like this, a dog that has been injured and rescued and one that I can love." Then they would just sit on the floor, rubbing Colonel's ears, softly and tenderly stroking his fur and for a while forgetting. Forgetting war, and death and fire and screams.
Perhaps on this Saturday afternoon two prisoners were freed by something as simple, and as necessary, as a hug.
"A great silence comes over me, and I wonder why I ever thought to use language." ~ Rumi
"The two most important days in your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why." ~ Mark Twain