There is empathy from all different walks of life.
Last summer, my husband and I travelled with a communications team for The Lutheran Witness down to San Antonio, Texas, to learn more about the U.S. Army’s chaplaincy program. We visited Fort Sam Houston, Brooke Army Medical Center, Camp Bullis, and other significant military establishments to talk with chaplains, medics, apache pilots, wounded warriors, purple heart awardees, and hero after hero after hero.
I learned that there are brave men and women who risk their lives every day to protect me and the freedoms I enjoy in this country; I learned that there are faithful chaplains and their assistants who rush towards the boom of every battle to give the gifts of Word and Sacrament to the wounded and dying; I learned that there are many things I can do to support the families of military personnel; I learned that thousands of our nation’s warriors suffer from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and struggle transitioning back into civilian life; and I learned that those who struggle with post traumatic stress speak my language.
For example, in High Ground (2012), a recent documentary on recovering warriors training and attempting a therapeutic climb of a peak in the Himalayas, a master at arms canine handler in the U.S. Navy admits, “Injuries are a very personal experience. I don’t like to talk about what happened. One of my main obstacles when I came back and was in a wheelchair for 3 1/2 years is [that] everybody looked at me as broken, and, um, they missed who I was. And so that became my identity…it was always about the injury, not about me.”
Yes. I resound with that. My identity to most of the world is not “Katie, that baptized Christian who loves people, music, words, herbs, mountains, and running pants” but “Katie, that barren woman.”
Another soldier in the documentary admits before the camera, “I have more in common, I feel sometimes, with an old man on his deathbed than I do with people my own age, emotionally, you know…I just feel like…I’ve lived out my life…like the tank is empty.”
Yes. I feel the life-sucking tentacles of grief wrapped around my bloodline, and I tend to gravitate towards friendships with people who are several generations older than me. We have a lot in common.
The same soldier elaborates, “You just see people enjoying life and being alive and you’re like, why don’t I feel that? I’ve had so many near-death experiences, shouldn’t I be happy to be alive?…It’s really hard to, like, reestablish yourself, I guess, in society because it’s just so different…Everybody looks at us weird. ‘Thanks for your service…Stay away. Keep your distance from me.’”
Yes. My suffering and grief and pain often ostracize me from the party of life.
Another soldier suffering from a traumatic brain injury (TBI) discloses, “People still don’t get it that not all pain is physical.”
Yes. Coping with life-altering circumstances and chronic health problems brings with it an invisible but all-consuming pain that really, really hurts.
So, because there are only so many of you courageous warriors in uniform and veterans’ caps that I meet gassing up at my local Casey’s or walking down the fruit aisle at my Wal-Mart on Dirksen, please allow me to thank you on this little blog. Thank you, not just for your brave service to our country on the battlefield but also for your brave face-off with the enemy of post traumatic stress off of the battlefield. I cannot fully understand the traumas you have experienced in trying to protect me, but I relate to the internal battle you so eloquently describe. I find comfort in your empathy.
God bless you.