On the World Series, the Banner and Honoring Veterans
I have been watching this great world series (I’m from St. Louis) for the past few nights and a couple of thoughts have come to me in doing so.
I have been really moved by the beautiful renditions of the Star Spangled Banner by different service men and women - they have beautiful voices and do both the song and the nation proud.
And I notice that as I watch these men and women sing I also feel a sense of dread, a kind of sick feeling that somehow something is being pulled over on me.
It is true, this is a kind of honoring of our men and women in uniform. Kind of like a parade. But with a background of waving flags and singing Americans in the stadiums, I think we are being sold a very soft and staged picture of what honoring veterans is. If we can get away with the hot dog and apple pie vision of America and sweet voiced men and women in uniform we don’t have to feel what is real for millions of Americans who have either fought in our wars or who are directly related to the men and women who have.
And I think it sells all of the rest of us short because as we have seen in taking The Welcome movie to communities around the country, Americans want to understand and to feel at least some of the truth of what is carried by the men and women who have actually fought. We civilians will never truly get it, but we have seen that a whole lot of us are hungry for the emotional truth, painful as it is. That is what really honors veterans.
So, sing away. But lets not forget what is really about for the men and women directly involved with making these songs and these games possible.
Dear Friends and supporters,
We want to report that the summer has resulted in a series of great screenings, from Medford, OR to London and many locations in between. The film was shown to great reviews in local libraries, peace gatherings, the S. Oregon VA, the Baptist Peace Fellowship National Convention, and most recently at the Veterans for Peace/Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Against the War national convention in Portland, OR. We have been extremely happy with the response to the movie, and are now embarked upon the next phase - or phases.
First, we have joined forces with Lin McNulty, grandmother of an Iraq Vet and ex-wife of a Vietnam Vet, who is now our Outreach and Distribution Coordinator. She is great and has jumped in with both feet by making contacts with hundreds of organizations all over the country seeking screening partners as we get the film into local communities everywhere.
Please consider this to be an invitation to all of you to consider how you might be able to help bring the film to your community, through your school, church, club, business or simply into your own home. We have added a Host a Screening Toolkit to the website and we are anxious to help anyone pull off a successful local screening either alone or with partners. Our goal is to have hundreds of local showings on or around Veterans Day (11/11) and after, and we can definitely use your help in making this happen. Please contact either Lin (firstname.lastname@example.org) or myself and we will be happy to help you get your screening organized.
Second, we are about to embark on a new series of Film Festivals around the country (see schedule on the right) beginning this September at the Woodstock Independent Film Festival, followed soon after at the Mill Valley Film Festival. The film will also be used in a major fundraiser for an organization working with homeless Vets in San Rafael, CA, called Homeward Bound. If you, or friends/colleagues you know, are living near any of these festivals or screenings, please join us and please help by spreading the word.
Thanks for your continued support, and please join us in bringing the film to your community this coming November and beyond.
Welcome Home Project Blog - July, 2011
As we move quickly past the 4th of July, our national homage to independence under "the rocket's red glare", we can also begin to understand that with President Obama's recent announcement of a drawdown in troop levels in Afghanistan, and our imminent departure from Iraq, many many thousands of additional troops (now nearing two million who have served) will be coming home to communities woefully unprepared to receive them properly.
The VA is already maxed out and complaints about lack of access to care or benefits are common enough that it is no longer news. Suicide rates of up to 19/day among veterans is news that is no longer of much interest to usual news sources.
The truth of this is that Post Traumatic Stress is not really a disorder. Its simply the natural result of living with the kind of trauma that is endemic to war. The "disorder" is public numbness about all this. Democrats or Republicans, or Righties or Lefties can get all worked up depending on what political points they think they can score, but the truth is that the culture expresses many of the symptoms described as PTSD: psychological numbness, isolation, paranoid thinking, hyper arousal (see our national political climate), depression, anger, etc.
As these thousands of vets are set to return, it is past time to begin working on healing all this, and what is needed is a courageous willingness by civilians to begin to feel again. It is time, it is possible, and there are ways. That is one purpose of the film, The Welcome: to excite the latent compassion of "we the people". Please contact us to see how you might bring the film to your community and how to use it once there. Talk it up, introduce this idea to your friends and colleagues, get ready to feel again. It is not about politics, and in some ways it isn't even about welcoming veterans. it is about welcoming our own humanity.
In the interest of posting something about war that shows the impact of small acts (or not so small acts) of kindness during wartime, we post this article that was sent to us by a friend. It also demonstrates the long term effects of war on families - generations away from the conflict.
I Am for a Memorial Day Which Truly Remembers
by Penny McManigal
When I was a kid I remember that every Memorial Day at 11:00 (or was it 12:00?) all of the towns' whistles tooted and the church bells rang. Everyone stopped whatever they were doing to remember those who had died in battle.
As my Navy Lt. Commander father had returned safely from World War II I was always especially grateful and mindful of that fact during the memorialized silence. Next I always remembered the story my grandmother had told me so many times.
During the Civil War my Great-grandfather, William Fredric Hineman of Findlay Ohio, had served as a Union Soldier in the Civil War. He was in his early twenties when his troops wound up in the fierce "Battle of Stone's River" on New Year’s Eve in Murfreesboro, Tennessee in 1864.
It was New Year's Eve, snowing and bitterly cold. During the night a single bullet tore through his thin Union Jacket, cleanly piercing his lung and exiting at his back. Will dropped to the ground bleeding profusely, alone and unconscious among dead soldiers piled around him on that dark night. As the New Year's early morning light filtered softly across the snowy battlefield a Southern couple from the area moved slowly through the many torn bodies. Somehow they came upon my Great-grandfather and found that he was still alive, although barely. Working together they managed to get Will onto their wagon and into their farmhouse, where they then began to tend to his serious wound. In actual fact my Union soldier Great-grandfather stayed with that Southern couple in their farmhouse for several months until he was finally strong enough to return to Ohio, carrying his Union jacket with its two holes, along with him.
After his return to Ohio he married my Great-grandmother, Elizabeth Jane Moffet, and they later had seven children (Including twins.) My Great-grandfather, William, eventually died of complications related to that old Civil War injury to his lung.
When I was a young woman in my early twenties my grandparents gave me his historical bullet-torn coat. That coat always served as my Teacher as I tried to grapple with the horrors of war. If that Southern couple had not saved my ancestor he would never have married and had children, the last of whom was my direct antecedent! In fact I therefore owe my very own life to the kindness of those unknown southern strangers, whose morality was deeper than the symbol of an enemy flag, wider than a battlefield and higher than any gun could ever shoot.
So every Memorial Day I honor both those who have died fighting for our freedom, as well as those whose code of ethics works hard to preserve the peace. I do not think in the black and white terms of "peace at any price" but rather "Where there's a Will there's a way." Today that old coat lies tattered and torn in a chest at the foot of our bed, the moth holes and bullet holes all running together, except for the identifying red stitching around one particular hole on the front of the jacket and one out the back.
Yes, I remember and share this story every Memorial Day.
Dear Friends and supporters of Veterans and their families,
As we all know, Memorial Day is a time for remembering. Certainly it is a time for remembering the sacrifices of the men and women who have given their lives for this country, whether through the draft or through the choice to enlist. More importantly, I think it is a time to remember that their sacrifices touch all of us in personal ways, large and small. Most of us can’t come close to relating to a combat experience, but we can all understand loss, sacrifice and trauma from our own lives. That is an opening, and an invitation to look more closely at the experience of the returning veterans in our midst. We do not need to run from their experience out of fear that we will say the wrong thing, hurt feelings or set off the potential time bomb of PTSD. They are people. We can relate to people.
We can all do something, and doing something is not a badge of honor - its just the right effort to make. Read more about the issues, ask the people you know who have a family member in their service how their loved one is doing - and then ask how they are doing with this experience. Connect.
Yesterday the New York Times had an article titled the Unexpected Perils of Coming Home (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/29/us/29soldiers.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&hp
The brief descriptions of several of the men and women returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are personal, touching, and basically pretty distant. As with most of the coverage of the wars, we are asked, if we are asked at all, to observe from a distance what is happening with some people “other” than us. Understandable, but articles like this one tend to create the impression that this is happening to someone else, that it is sad, maybe even moving, but not personal to me. Its a VA problem.
We can ask more of ourselves. And contrary to what seems to be the conventional wisdom that most of us couldn’t “take it” or “understand it” if we are told the truth, we have seen audiences willingly step into the pain shared by the vets and their families and embrace it and them with wide open arms.
We civilians are capable of much more than the media apparently believes. All that means is that we are all human, more alike than different.
Contact us if you would like to see the film or bring it to your community. You can see the trailer here: http://www.thewelcomethemovie.com/trailer/
THE WELCOME will be shown at the Ojai Foundation today at 7:30 in Ojai, CA.
It will also be shown at SOU in Ashland tomorrow afternoon at 3:30 at the Commuter Resource Center. It will be followed by a discussion that will include both veterans and the audience. This will be in honor of Graduating Veterans, a chance to show your support by joining in the emotional truth of if all.
Sometimes you stumble into something out of a sense of duty or good intentionns only to find yourself absorbed and overwhelmed beyond anything you might have anticipated.
That's the state in which I find myself after watching "The Welcome," which premiered this afternoon at the Ashland Independent Film Festival.
"The Welcome" is a film about a group of two dozen troubled military veterans -- some of whom served in Vietnam, some in Afghanistan and Iraq -- who came together at a retreat near Ashland in the spring of 2008 to learn how to share their stories, first with one another and then with an audience at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival on Memorial Day.
The film chronicles the process by which the veterans -- men and women, older and younger -- transformed under the mentorship of Michael Meade of the Mosaic Multicultural Foundation, a mythologist and storyteller with long experience in bringing communities together for healing processes. Using a variety of techniques, Meade brought the veterans around to a frame of mind in which they could write, sing or speak aloud their tales of the experience of war, of post-traumatic stress, and of a long and often impossible-to-navigate return to normalcy.
From virtually the outset, with a poem by Laura Capenter, a veteran of Afghanistan about to deploy to Iraq, "The Welcome" drills directly through any emotional reserves you might bring into it. You're unsteadied, startled, galvanized, and brought to sobs again and again. There are dark jokes and harrowing accounts of the hellish confusion of war and its grip on the memory. There are angry outbursts as the various veterans try to establish terms of respect and conduct with one another. There are wry laughs and monumental silences. And there are staggering moments of courage in which the veterans look as if they're merely speaking aloud but in which they are actually performing open-heart surgery on themselves -- in front of an audience and a movie camera.
Many of the central figures in the film were present at the screening, which took place in -- so help me -- Ashland's Historic Armory, and the audience was filled with friends, family members, other veterans, and dozens of people who had attended the original poetry reading in 2008. From the start of the screening to the finish there were audible sniffles and sobs throughout the theater. When director Kim Shelton and producer Bill McMillan took the stage after the screening they were joined by a dozen or so of the principals in the film, and the near-capacity crowd stood applauding, wiping its eyes, hugging. It was as genuine and complete an outpouring of emotion as I've ever witnessed in a movie house.
We just wanted to remind those of you who live near Ashland, OR that the film will have its first public showing at the Ashland Independent Film Festival this coming Saturday, April 9. It will take place at the Historic Ashland Armory at Noon. Tickets are still available and can be purchased at www.ashlandfilm.org. We would love to see all of you there!
Also, if you cannot make the showing, we are now offering the film for sale on our web sites. It is a simple process, totally safe, and we will get your copy to you just a few days after the purchase. Owning the film will give you a great opportunity to have others see it with you in your homes or wherever, and we encourage you to see the film with others. That way, what is generally an avoided conversation about Veterans returning home to families and communities can begin and/or deepen.
I am also inviting you to make comments, about the film, your own experience, whatever, on our website "comments" section. These comments will be part of our grass roots outreach effort, so please feel free to join in about your own experience. (This is not intended for political purposes, so pleas keep this in mind if you choose to share your thoughts.)
I'll report in on how the screening goes, but before that I want to thank again all of you who have made it possible for this film to come to completion and now birth into the world.