There are certain situations in which I meet someone for the first time and realize I am being pigeon-holed, stereotyped, or prejudged. In these moments I sometimes find it beneficial to mention that I served in the Israeli army. Regardless of what I did or didn’t do in the army- the very fact of it causes others to step back and reconsider who or what I might be about.
When I was in the Israeli army I was in love with a soldier-boy whose ears stuck out from the sides of his beret so I nicknamed him Bozo, but he was no clown. He was a Sephardic boy (North African Descent) who stood his ground in an Ashkenazic (Eastern European) world- and soon he would sprout paratrooper’s wings.
Every morning, after working a night shift in the radar room, golden-curled Rahel and I would cook breakfast for the troops returning from night patrol and then I’d run up the mountain- where inevitably I’d encounter a wild boar. The wild boar is a very large animal whose grunts are half-roar. Those encounters may have been the most frightening of my entire army service.
“This is very rare,” said my soldier-boy, “when you see it you must say thank you GOD thank you very much.”
Since my guy was neither religious or overstated, right then and there I said: “I thank you GOD. Thank you very much.” After all- the flower was stunning, we were in a war-zone, and I had not been eaten by the wild boar.
Many wars and border crossings later, my friend Roxanna, invited me to a culminating event for her Agape workshop at Boston College. Roxanna started this writing program for veterans as a penance of sorts for her own patriotism- that cast her two sons into the US military’s revolving door of troop re-deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. There was one woman Marine, and a gunner guy- both veteran’s of Iraq; two Viet Nam vet;, a veteran of World War II, and a women who knew her own war as a peace-time soldier based in Germany.
It was a rare moment of penance for my childhood adulation of the heroic peace-seekers who had attacked, blamed and condemned the Viet Nam Vets returning home from battlefields concocted by statisticians and political pundits. At Agape I closed my eyes to listen: a moment of unclaimed intimacy, truth-telling.
I was thinking about the hard-won struggle of Viet Nam Veterans Against the War (VVAW), social psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers to have PTSD accepted into the canon of psychiatric diagnosis. Without them I would not know how to listen to the Agape veteran’s stories, with a trauma-informed-clinical ear. I felt grateful to my mentors in trauma work, for my training; and I thanked GOD for their teacher Roxanna, my friend: her eyes tearing up as we listened to the stories she helped create. A rare flower she is indeed. My Roxanna! Thank you to all at Agape, thank you very much.