A Sacred Space for the Experience of Service

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Blog written by: Amy Bushatz

If there is one thing I know to be true beyond a shadow of a doubt it is this: stories matter.

When we tell our stories, we offer those around us the chance to connect with our experiences and understand who we are. When we listen to someone else’s story, we show them they are important, that their experiences matter and that who they are and what they’ve done means something.

Our stories are what give us our humanity, and they are what connect us with other people. Stories are the essence of the human experience.

When I first heard Sebastian Junger speak on the Eagle Nation podcast about veteran town halls, the idea planted itself in my soul and wouldn’t let go. The concept was simple: invite veterans into a local town hall space on Veterans Day and ask them to spend up to 10 minutes speaking about the emotional experience of service. Invite community members to listen.

Only veterans may speak at the town hall, the idea goes. There are no questions, no commentary, no politics — just stories, just connection. Through those stories, Junger suggested, the community has a chance to connect with its veteran neighbors, and veterans have a way to connect to their communities.

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As if it were a moral mandate, I knew the town hall was something we absolutely had to do through Team RWB Anchorage. If we, as a Team, say that connecting veterans with their communities is a major part of our mission and if I believe that stories matter, what better way to show it than host a town hall?

So that’s what we did. We didn’t hold our town hall on Veterans Day — there are enough parades, ceremonies and free food options that day to fill up anyone’s calendar. Instead, we rented a community meeting space for the Sunday after Veterans Day. We advertised the event with local newspapers, radio and TV stations. We posted flyers in every conceivable location. We talked about the town hall with every single person we met.

Our reward was a showing of over 50 people, including part of a troop of American Heritage Girls who wanted to volunteer and hear stories, too.

As five veterans spoke I heard them discuss the “why” behind their service, the emotional toll that war brought and what homecoming meant. The voices of these warriors quivered with emotion as they revealed pieces of themselves that they never show anyone, they told us.

The audience sat quietly taking it all in. When our speakers were done and no one else wanted to talk, we closed the hour.

“Today veterans of all wars had a chance to address their community directly and without intermediaries,” our emcee read from closing remarks. “As a guest or speaker, you took part in a community ceremony that returns the experience of war to our entire community, rather than just leaving it to the people who fought. Not only is this vets town hall tremendously beneficial to veterans, but it may help bring communities and even the entire country together as well.”

We know that it did.

 

Photo Credit to: Jason Rouch for Team RWB Anchorage

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