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So, seriously, y’all, what the hell do you want?

December 9, 2010

I just came across this really excellent post by Alex Horton about, I guess, Memorial Day. Which, I am clearly late to that party, but anybody who’s met me knows I’m never on time for a party, so whatever.

And the only thing I have to say is: for the love of God, what do you want from us?

By you, of course, I mean veterans. By us I mean the civilians who care. Not just the people who’ve put yellow ribbon magnets on their cars, because I think we’re all clear on how little impact that has, but the people who’ve sat up with friends and vets and observed and held their pain. I’m not claiming some kind of special awareness or holier-than-thou status here. I’m merely saying that that’s something I’m good at – simply being with people who hurt, and walking through that valley – and that I’ve done that a time or two. Not that often. Not as often as I should have. But I hope that as often as I was clearly asked, I have been there, done that, and not demanded any t-shirts.

That said, what more can I do?

Because I’ll be honest. I can lay all the wreaths in Arlington I want, and I can update all the databases of health care providers with specialities in PTSD I want. I still don’t think I’m touching the real, remarkably deep divide between what soldiers experience and what I experience of war, and I don’t think I’m helping in a way that matters to veterans, that makes them feel like they’re not on the fringes of society.

I want to help. I truly, truly do. But I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to make it clear that yeah, okay, less than 1% of America is serving, but at least some of the rest of us care what you’re going through, what you’ve been through, what you’ll go through for the rest of your lives. Some of us care very much about your broken families and your lost friends and the psychological scars you carry and hide. How can I help you with that? Can I shoulder any of that burden for you?

As the daughter of a man who served, who lost, who cared, and who never broke, I saw what silently carrying Vietnam, and any number of other wars, did to him. I learned a lot of valuable lessons, but most of all I wish he could have confided in me. I wish he hadn’t died six years ago, and I wish I could ask him now what I could be doing to help his fellow veterans feel like they are just as valued in civilian society as they were in the military. Instead I’m left asking you, the Internet, what I should be doing.

So help me out here. Do you want ticker tape parades? Do you want glossy ribbons and medals? Do you just want us to pretend you’re doing okay when you’re maybe not, but maybe you can’t talk about it because I won’t understand, so you’d like me to ignore the lapses? Do you want to just some way of feeling normal again, even though your experiences are far from the median American experience? And how can I, and the rest of civil society that wants to help, facilitate that?

Or can I? I’m willing to admit that maybe I can’t help. Maybe the healing has to come from within your own (military?) community, or whatever trite phrasing we want to throw on it. Maybe you have to do most of the work to connect with society, and maybe all I can do is sit quietly when it hurts and offer you a panda hat and an open invite to get some trigger therapy sometime. I dunno. You tell me. I don’t like feeling helpless in the face of such pain, but I also know I can’t fix everything.

* I also do not in any way mean to imply that everybody isย  damaged by service in the armed forces, because that’s bullshit, but a common complaint/thread I’ve heard has been the sense of disconnect from civilian society upon return, and that bothers me. That’s where this post came from. There, and two bourbons.

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6 Comments
  1. December 9, 2010 2:42 am

    I think most veterans act like women in this regard.

    • December 9, 2010 6:45 am

      If I punch you next week, you’ll know why. ๐Ÿ˜€

  2. Stacy permalink
    January 6, 2011 1:28 am

    A cold beer (Shiner Bock or Paulaner), a handshake and no more stupid questions

    • February 3, 2011 9:22 am

      Fortunately, those are easy to come by in Germany ๐Ÿ˜‰

  3. February 14, 2011 5:57 pm

    I tweeted this to you, but this post made me think about what civilians needed to understand how to communicate with active duty members and veterans. Hope this answers your questions:

    http://www.blogs.va.gov/VAntage/?p=1432

    Also, Stacy nails it in one sentence. As a Texas boy, I know enough Shiner Bocks can solve any problem.

  4. futtbucker permalink
    November 30, 2011 3:59 pm

    Why is it that the new vets are so ashamed of what they have done in Iraq and Afghanistan that they don’t want to talk about it?

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