My life has essentially involved words. As a writer, it is about finding the right words to say. As a therapist, it is also about finding the right words to say. In both, there is a need for those words to exercise their duty to give pause to something, to validate something, to describe to detail an emotion. There have been many times words have not been easy to find. Particularly in times of loss, I’ve found, the fewer, more clear words I can use that convey, “I’m listening. This is your story to share and I’m here if/when you want to share it,’ are the most powerful. I have set with countless men and women and listened to their stories. I have never been to war, but I’ve been entrusted by men and women who have to share their experiences. It is not lost on me with those individuals or any individual I’ve worked with, how thankful I am that they felt safe enough to deem me worthy of the very powerful experience of bearing witness to whatever it is they’ve been through. I am grateful every day for this experience. It feels like an honor and a great privilege. Perhaps one of the most profound experiences I ever had was working with a young gentlemen. He was incredibly smart, incredibly attractive; he had the whole world going for him. He joined the military to get money for school and wanted to become a surgeon. He was very young when I met him. Most likely due to his intelligence, he had a very important job in the military. Unfortunately often with great importance in jobs of war, comes the need to see horrible things. We had just finished a session and he got up as if he was going to leave my office and I got up to walk out with him. Instead of walking out, he just turned around, grabbed me, and began to sob on my shoulder. I can still feel his hot tears on my shirt. I am not a person who is exceptionally touchy-feely, but I remember thinking ‘you don’t let go of this kid until he does.’ I didn’t. I held him and let him cry. He occasionally mumbled, “I am just too young to see the things I did.” I couldn’t do anything but validate that and hold him. I had no words. He needed to just cry, be held, and be validated. Truthfully, I can’t write a poem for Memorial Day. I feel like saying ‘thank you,’ to Service Members and their families is not enough. I feel like validating the courage, the compassion, the patriotism, one puts on the line for his or her country by joining the armed forces is not even enough. All I can say really is, “It takes somebody incredibly special, gifted with so many ideals and so much bravery, I cannot fathom.’ The same being said by any family member of those who serve, “You too have been given an incredibly high honor and challenge in this life.’ Still, it just feels like words. I cannot express how much I respect, honor, and look up to those who served. I went back and forth on if a poem was worthy of even posting today. The poem I chose was a poem I wrote today, Memorial Day, that really just followed my thoughts today as I took a walk. They drifted from those around me, to the weather, to reflecting on those I remember, who lost their lives to war, to life in general…
The raindrops keep getting bigger
And time seems to keep growing smaller.
One foot in front of the other.. One foot in front of the other..
There’s a march, a cadence dictated in my head.
I watched the changing of the guard
At the Tomb of the Fallen Soldier
This morning to remind myself
Of all the hearts I tried to kickstart
Only to lose to a trigger of war insistent
On being the only featured film playing in their heads.
There is an old man ahead of me humming
What sounds like a beautiful tune
I ask that it finds it’s way from his lips
Out of this world, to wherever peace has finally found you.
Two older ladies walk together,
“At least it warmed up for a few days,” one says,
Reflecting on how two out of three days of Memorial Weekend
Were the warmest days we’ve seen in months.
Today, Memorial Day, it seems fitting a rain should come down.
Each droplet a cry for some soldier’s lost skin,
A cry for a child who never met her dad.
A cry for the hormones of a lover, now only to be craved.
Yes, it does seem fitting for ‘A Little Fall of Rain.”
I watch the two old ladies, who walk
Holding each other upright. So accepting
Of the unsteadiness life has brought to their gaits.
I guess after years of holding yourself up,
A dear friend is the one thing you would need.
One foot in front of the other..The rain is now coming down quicker, faster..
One foot in front of the other..I keep my cadence the same.
I tell the teens I work often, my favorite quote
From my time working in the army, “If it ain’t
Raining, you ain’t training.” They always seem to love it.
Little do they know, I’m planting a seed. Located
Above the Hippocampus in the medial temporal lobes
Are two amygdalae, both associated with emotional learning and memory.
I plant the seed of a mantra there
And when they cry big droplets like the one’s coming down from the sky today,
I joke, “If you ain’t raining, you ain’t training,’ and they laugh
And still somehow know I’m reminding them
Nobody gets to where they’re going without a few days
Training in the cold rain and mud. “What does not kill us
Will make us stronger,” they say and normally it does.
Stronger doesn’t always look the way we think it will though.
It often takes on different forms. I walk one foot in front of the other…
Takes a lot more strength today than running thirteen miles a day
Used to take. I think back to the ballet bar
Nailed to the mirrored wall in the physical therapy room.
Two months ago, I could outrun a whole platoon.
Now I’m not sure if I can put my foot down in front of the other.
The strength that took. Nights of fear and self-doubt.
Watching my body change it’s shape and how I felt.
I’m stronger today because I learned to listen to my body.
I had to learn there’s no way to cheat fate.
There’s just one foot in front of the other…
There’s no way around things. Fear is a rain
No one can outrun. You simply have to walk through it,
And it will come down in buckets and drip and mist
And then flood a city and the same day the sun will break through again.
Cleaning up a town, a heart, a mind flooded in fear and loss,
Requires accepting the cadence of one foot in front of the other…
So the rain drops get bigger and time gets smaller
And I’m not in a rush because there’s only a finish line to cross
And as the two older women walking ahead of me prove.
Life is an endless amount of finish lines, all ready with applause.
However, once you cross one, you must always be ready for the next.
So it makes a lot of sense to just slow down.
Let someone hold you up if need them.
Perfect a song until you hum it amazingly.
Practice never breaking the cadence in your march.
Because after you take that step and bear that weight,
There’s another step, another day.
Knowing how to walk in the rain, how to push through pain,
How to be able to face another day, understanding strength
Changes in definition and shape. The triathlete
Who goes to war will tell you, your body does depend on strength,
But the strength needed to win the triathlon
Is nothing to fighting a war with your mind.
The strong aren’t able to unsee what they’ve seen.
They just learn the cadence one foot in front of the other…
Acknowledging each step forward is an achievement in time.