I have not met a single combat veteran who is doing absolutely fine in “society” who has not spent a significant time in the wilderness to heal.
Do you disagree that this is a fact?
Correct me if you need, but before you clearly point out SGT SoAndSo’s vague successes to me, please make the effort to check in with that veteran personally. Ask them before you declare their state of well-being for them. Are they truly happy, or have you just decided in order to avoid seeing?
Does “it” make sense to them? Do they fit into the rat race? Do they struggle through the red that overcomes their vision when someone at a fancy chain restaurant, dressed in name brand garb and expensive jewels at a nearby table complains loudly over their cocktail that their 20 OZ rib eye was overcooked?
Do you still deny the fact?
That simple fact is why I jumped at the opportunity to support the non-profit organization, Huts for Vets.
I saw clearly in this program an opportunity for veterans to truly be given the chance to experience and understand that wilderness itself, through adventure, movement, stillness, contemplation, and silence, can be used as a therapy much cheaper and more effective than the myriad of synthetic drugs proposed as an advanced solution by an advanced society. The culture of the United States, being fast paced, competition focused, as well as “success” and power-driven, often collectively considers creature comforts: the free cocktails, meals, coffees, movie and theme park tickets, discounted, freshly sanitized hotel rooms and upgraded plane tickets, to be the solution to assisting veterans in their reintegration, and a meaningful way to say thank you.
An opportunity to STOP being:
- Self Destructive
An opportunity to stop and focus on here and now…
To be environmentally isolated…enough to understand true necessity.
THAT, and only THAT, which genuinely matters…
And suddenly, in those moments, perspective creeps.
There is nothing in the wilderness that judges. You become aware of your part of an inclusive whole. There’s an inherent understanding, a belonging that simply doesn’t exist in the cement laden city or the over manecured suburbs. The standing eyes of aspens watch, supporting, while their leaves reach out lovingly and softly caress your skin. You glide through, gently pushing aside branches covered in shimmering coins of gold.
You are alive, and needn’t explain a word to a deer nor the trees, as to who you are, what you do, how much money you make, what certifications you have to prove your worth, or what you’ve been through to be here, breathing.
You are allowed to set down your “story” and see yourself for who you are with and without it.
The sweet grass cares neither about your hair color, thickness, shine, nor style while it lazily sways, demonstrating its flexibility in the breeze.
The stream cares not about the style shoes you wear as you navigate its light, persistent, frigid current.
This being said, I truly believe that war truly humanizes the veteran. It presents to the soldier an overwhelming glimpse of a reality that cannot be ignored without risk of sanity lost. There are simply things that scream loudly in a combat veteran’s face when they return to the states and get invited to that chain restaurant with the Veteran’s Day special or their 10% veteran discounted meal or cocktail.
Did you know that every single day more than 22 veterans take their lives?
Did you know that 1/3 of these are women?
Did you know that at this point, we’ve lost more soldiers to the invisible wounds of war than to actual, physical combat trauma?
Did you know that your veteran never truly gets to completely leave war behind?
Does your chain restaurant flaunt how many veterans become alcoholics when they return from combat while they promote having a 1/2 off cocktail?
Do they flaunt how many veterans are addicted to narcotics as a result of the VA’s faulty pain management system?
This Veteran’s Day, I’d like to give you advice from a vet. Perhaps instead of saying, “Thank you for your service,” (which I’ve found from talking with my friends…can really grate on a combat vet’s nerves) in a meme online, or inviting veterans to drink with you at a chain restaurant that offers discounts…perhaps instead of sitting on the computer and flipping through pretty pictures of flags to post as your profile photo to “prove” you support vets to the world…perhaps you could give the gift of time with a side of freedom back to a vet.
That sounds funny, huh.
Give freedom back to a vet…How do you do that when you are always thanking a vet for the “freedom” they’ve given you?
How do you give freedom to a vet? Take some time and invite a veteran to the wilderness with you this Veteran’s Day. The wilderness could be as close as the local park if you are in a city or the top of a mountain. It could be a patch of desert or a quiet stream. Go there with your veteran. Don’t offer advice, judgement, or an opinion on the way said vet is healing, living, learning, looking, or existing.
Give them the freedom of complete and unadultered acceptance. Provide them with a unique, often unparalleled opportunity to just STOP.
Allow them to walk with you and simply be part of an inclusive whole.
Tomorrow’s Not Guaranteed.