As the holidays approach, it feels right to write my first-ever blog, creating it for this site, which is about a subject that has become dear to my heart -- veterans of all wars, those who love them, and every citizen of every country who wants to understand what veterans have been through and what they struggle with now, as well as everyone who maybe wants to try to help.
War's pain, unshared, creates despair, creates chasms between those who could otherwise be close and help each other through the pain. Early in 2010, I wrote my forthcoming book, When Johnny and Jane Come Marching Home: How All of Us Can Help Veterans (MIT Press will publish it in March, 2011), and what I heard from veterans while working on the book and since then makes thoughts of this month's holidays excruciating.
On television this week, I watched a news item showing young children at a Christmas party observe as the man dressed as Santa Claus removed his costume, revealing camouflage military garb beneath, and then removed his beard, revealing him to be their father, home on leave and surprising them. It seemed a perfect metaphor for the jollity, the "everything's swell" front that servicemembers and their loved ones are supposed to display rather than the wrenching pain of separations and losses that war creates, the physical and emotional chasms that everyone prays will be speedily bridged during brief or even not-so-brief times of home leave. How fast and effectively can these chasms be bridged, when the servicemember's and the rest of the family's lives have been so recently so different, when the children and spouse may be deeply hurt, enraged, or both because of the one parent's absence, or when they may have idealized the absent parent to a degree that no human being could ever match? And how bittersweet to want to bridge those chasms, to reconnect closely and deeply, while knowing that that parent will soon again leave.
During this holiday time, it seems more important than ever to be willing to listen to what veterans and their loved ones want to tell us, if we let them know that we are here, that we will listen.
In recent months, at performances of three plays I have written about war veterans, audience members have included current servicemembers, veterans of many wars, servicemembers and veterans with widely disparate views of their wars and of war in general, peace activists, and people who fall into none of the above categories. But in post-performance discussions, I have seen them together form choruses of people crying out for the importance of all of us learning the truth about war. It is not healthy for veterans, for us nonveterans, or for the human race to maintain the chasm between those who know about war firsthand and the rest of us, for we share the Earth and need to learn about the important things that happen on it and how it affects those most at risk. We need to learn from each other, and through that learning, to begin to increase the number of important, compassionate, human connections in the world.