My work in Eugene continues on a new opera about a soldier returning from his second tour in Afghanistan. The audience watches the main character and his wife struggle with his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Last week, our cast and crew received some eye-opening insight on this when a veteran, we’ll call him Nick, joined us to share his experiences during and after his tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Recalling his initial return, Nick couldn’t accept that he had PTSD. In his view, instead of freezing in time, the world he called home had changed, leaving him left in the dust. His young daughter had learned to go to her mom when she had a need. His wife became independent as a parent, home owner, etc. Out of necessity, all of the roles he assumed pre-war had since been filled. Nick was encouraged to take his time and ease back into his “old routine”, but this was the last thing he needed. After being in the service, where every situation came equipped with a systematic approach and every action had heavy consequences, the idea of living without even a schedule felt void of meaning. Eventually, Nick wasn’t able to accomplish even the smallest of tasks. Paying the phone bill on time felt futile and didn’t even make it into his consciousness most months. He also came to feel so useless, his wife’s every request (“will you pick up a carton of milk on the way home?”) struck him as an attack (“why didn’t you pick up any milk? what are you good for?”) that demeaned him further.
There were dozens of heart-wrenching anecdotes that Nick generously shared with us, but what most struck me was his response after watching our rehearsal. He said that many of the scenes were so close to his own experience, they were hard to watch. He said that the tears he shed were tears he had struggled to let loose over the years. Nick made me want to continue this conversation, even though its messy, blood-streaked, and way over my head. I don’t know what it’s like to be in war, and hopefully I never will. I am a pacifist, as many of us are and have talked about this January during Peace Month. Most of all, I am a child of Jesus Christ, the ultimate healer. In hopes of being a part of the healing of war veterans and their families, I am honored to be a part of this dialogue, if nothing else, as a singing voice and a listening ear.
How can we provide community for individuals struggling with PTSD, war-related or otherwise?
How can we honor the living, healing souls of people who have served in war while adhering to our pacifist beliefs?
Contributed by Catherine Olson, Reedwood Friends