Show me something I can be,
Play a song that I can sing,
Make me feel as I am free,
Someone come speak for me. ~ j.c.m.
Sometimes we’re just not strong enough to handle what life brings our way. Sometimes we need someone to help us carry the burden, to help us think clearly, to help us heal our wounds. Sometimes we lose what made us unique, we lose our way. Sometimes our past cripples our future. Sometimes it all seems too hard.
Sometimes we need someone to fight for us, to speak for us.
On Saturday, I had the privilege to join with some fellow John Mayer fans to volunteer at his Oklahoma City show. Some of you may know that JM raises awareness and funds for research and programs to understand and improve veterans’ health and wellness, particularly of post-9/11 veterans. (Read more about it here.) JM established The Veterans Health and Integration Program to provide support to veterans as they make the transition back to life at home, to fund research on treatment for PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and TBIs (traumatic brain injuries), and to implement programs that foster healthy habits. At the concert, we had a booth to raise awareness, sell some JM swag, and raffle off front-row seats for JM’s set. Among my fellow volunteers were two active-duty servicemen and their wives and the mother of a wounded veteran.
In exchange for a couple hours of my time, I was able to attend JM’s concert for free. As always, he put on an incredible show. What an amazing talent. After the show, one of my fellow volunteers, a woman old enough to be my mother, offered to give me a ride to my car. I had parked a good 15-20 minute trek away from the arena…not thinking of making the return walk in the dark, alone. The ever-cautious part of me was a little leery of getting into a car with a woman I barely knew, but she seemed trustworthy enough, so I took her up on her kind offer. When we walked to the parking garage and got to her car – a lovely new Lexus that was fragrant with that intoxicating new-leather scent – I thought that no one who drives a Lexus could be harmful, right? Right.
As she drove me through the busy streets of downtown OKC, she began to tell me the story of her son, Elliott. He served in the Army National Guard for seven years, including tours to Iraq and Afghanistan, and a stint in New Orleans immediately after Hurricane Katrina. In 2007, Elliott was declared 100% permanently and totally disabled. He’s barely over 30. I sat with her for almost two hours in her car, listening as she entrusted me with this precious part of her life. Her story, and her son’s story, broke my heart. The war has changed Elliott, and it has undoubtedly changed his mother, too. At his request, she hasn’t spoken to him in years. Can you imagine that? The son she knew died in the sands of the Middle East, in a hospital in Germany. The son she fought to bring home, the son she loved fiercely and would do anything to protect. Although he returned home in the flesh, his soul is a victim of the war. It never came back.
Since Ben joined the Navy back in 2010, I’ve read and researched a lot on PTSD. It’s a fascinating topic to me – fascinating, and heartbreaking. You don’t have to serve in the military to have PTSD – or to care about it. Traumatic stresses are numerous. And it doesn’t matter how strong and sane you think you are – sometimes your body and your brain can only take so much. There are varying levels of how PTSD affects someone – it can be a temporary mild nuisance (short-term insomnia, depression) or it can consume and captivate every aspect of your life, leaving you powerless against your own brain.
As I drove home, John’s words played over in my head – someone come speak for me. We all know of people who need an advocate, people who need someone to help them through a hard time. These struggles come in a myriad of ways – PTSD, homelessness, abandoned children, anxiety and depression, the list goes on and on. The offering of a simple gesture can mean so much – a home-cooked meal, a listening ear, shelter, sitting with them in the waiting room. Sometimes we need someone to urge us to get the help we need. And sometimes we need to know that someone cares enough to be a champion of our cause, they want us to succeed, to get better, to be present.
I came away from the evening with a profound sense of gratitude for my health and happiness, and for the protection and safety of my family. I have long admired and respected the men and women who volunteer to serve their country – and I think it is our duty to take care of them when they come home. While they perform their duties of service, they are standing watch, defending our freedom, ensuring our safety. It’s the very least we can do to offer that to them when they return. No solider escapes the wounds of war, and not all wounds are visible.
To read more about Elliott and his quest for peace and healing, check out this profile written by This Land Press.
To read a remarkable first-hand account from a veteran of modern war, I highly recommend Brian Castner’s memoir, The Long Walk: A Story of War and the Life that Follows. He’s from Buffalo, NY.
To read more about John Mayer’s efforts to help our nation’s veterans and motivation for his work, read this Q&A.