Last night, this civilian got to go to a Warrior Writers event at Bridgewater State University usually only available to veterans.
There was a middle-aged man with grown kids and a veteran who brought her spouse. A few guys brought their young children. The civilians were teachers or students or artists, writers and invited guests. Together, we wrote to prompts and shared words and experiences as Rachel McNeill of Warrior Writers. http://www.warriorwriters.org/ guided us.
There is something sacred about being in a group and sharing words written on-the-spot and during a meeting. Immediately, reading words creates intimacy and honesty that isn’t often accessible in the polite conversation had sharing a meal or making small talk. Though given the same prompts to write to for each of us a tiny new flame was sparked. A fresh insight. A new memory or emotion. Perhaps a glimpse of understanding.
To hear experiences of a total stranger in his or her own voice travels inside of me like an aroma. Without thinking it gets to the center of my being. It is not mine but it becomes part of me.
It’s like watching a baby bird coming out of his shell or a flower only a day into her blossom. It’s not just seeing or witnessing another human being but also being present while something fresh emerges.
People don’t come in with prepared speeches or rehearsed lines. They don’t have go-to stories. No one knows what will get birthed when a prompt is given. Sometimes stunning stories come out whole while others are gifted with poetic fragments. Sometimes people circle the subject they are writing about and it is their tentativeness that is shared.
People might tear up or laugh hard or write something they’ve never even admitted to themselves. Always there is a delicious nakedness. It is not the overexposed kind of shock but the graceful purity of live vulnerability. People share not knowing if anyone has ever had a similar thought, experience or feeling and still they offer up their words.
It is so brave and tender.Sometimes they tremble and read quickly. Other times they are eager and devour the experience of being heard.
It is not the writer in me who is touched most but the primal human animal getting a glimpse of soul.
Leaving last night I felt enlarged and expansive, opened up and more awake. I had taken in and considered entire perspectives I had not even known existed. Reading fabulous writing can and often does the same thing but when we select books and movies we are often still consumers deciding what flavor or type of meal we choose to ingest. When strangers gather to create in the same time and space there is mystery.
The middle-aged man might say the most rebellious or idealist thing while a young woman might say something so wise it as though she has given a sermon.
In fact, I wrote about my homeless-veteran-alcoholic father and not really understanding what the phrase “he never really came home” from the war even means and how I’d love to know what and when his center pulled apart so that he couldn’t function or father. How I’d like to know and understand that phrase and him not just as an overgrown daughter but as a woman.
A student, maybe twenty said to me how she didn’t think of veterans as damaged but as people who know more truth. She said this as she sat next to her veteran father. She added something like “if that even makes sense” after. I looked right at her. I smiled because it made beautiful sense. It doesn’t matter if I understand or agree with her words, not really, because what I felt is how much she loved her father. And also, how she wanted to give some words and how much she had thought about life and learned to consider scars and trauma with fresh vision. She also seemed to be protecting her father or her view of the world as she rebuked any notion of veterans as damaged.
I was touched. If my writing existed only to evoke a response like that and enabled me to have that moment in a room of total strangers, how can I not be joyful? This young girl and her genuine and unrehearsed response to my words stretched the shape of my heart.
It’s not always so profound or magical, so artistic or thought-provoking. But there is always a line or a gem or a nugget. Maybe it is only the way the face of the person reading opens up and their shoulders unclench just a bit so that they can hear the words of others more. Always though, without fail, during a free-write something happens and moves and shifts. Incremental or monumental – that can vary – but the movement is indisputable.
I thought I’d write a post about all I have learned about veterans and the different veterans who shared. There is so much but I can’t do justice to what I learned without sharing war stories that aren’t my own.
Instead, I praise the universal way words reach in, educate, awaken and inform. I love it when people put down defenses and scripts and the guardedness to risk true connection. I don’t do or allow this often enough. I listened and I sat and I scrawled and I shared.
Today, there are words and stories and feelings residing in me that weren’t there yesterday. All day, I pick at them like sea glass in my pocket, picking up different pieces, holding one to the light, one to the window and another under a magnifying glass to study it more.
I will never tire of the process of writing that is basically free and available to most everyone. One not feel “good” at it or especially talented to create new words out of air with just an invitation, a prompt and willingness. The process is as sacred as the product.