There was a time when I wallowed in my dread, feeling dejected, rejected, and ejected. My marriage was ending, a second career collapsing, and my little farm slipping away. I did some writing, and one of the collections of short pieces I titled, “Nobody said Thank You.” That was eight years afterVietnam and only the beginning of a long road to gratitude.
Many mornings, including this one, begin with dread. I wake with a feeling of emptiness and impending doom. I check the news to see what bad things have been happening or what terrible things might be in our future. It is dark—inside and out.
The sun will rise.
From the comfort of my breakfast bar, I will watch our nearest star ascend above the Gila Mountains viewed through our patio door while Nancy and I enjoy a crossword puzzle, together. There are times, doing puzzles, when I get silly. Nothing improves my mood so much as watching Nancy laugh at me.
The day gets better.
I will go to work, doing something I love, something meaningful and relevant, something I am prepared to do well. In the dry, low Sonoran Desert of Yuma, AZ, I have found an oasis with grass, trees, and birds. I have found a college campus where I feel at home.
Yesterday, I spent a few minutes watching butterflies. We have a campus project to propagate native milkweeds to support migrating Monarch Butterflies, and I was trying to identify them among the imitators such as Viceroy, Queen, and Princess. It’s not my job, but it is most definitely part of Science Education. Mostly, though, it takes me back to a simpler time of my farm boy youth.
It takes me back to my pre-trauma self.
There are many times when I wallow in my dread. The difference, today, is that I do not have to stay there. I have a way out, a way shown to me by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs and friends who have found their ways out through the VA and reach back to give me a hand.
The first time I went to the VA center in Tucson, I was in awe. It is a beautiful campus with a staff that reaches out to help our Veterans. Surrounded by all this professionalism and hundreds of Veterans, I felt the ice of dread melting in the light of genuine validation. I am so grateful to live in a nation that takes care of our warriors.
Oh, sure, it is a bureaucracy—imperfect, inefficient, and cumbersome—but it works. Not only did I feel validated that somebody was listening to me, but they were taking care of all these other comrades, and some of us can be downright cranky. Pain does that, you know, whether it is physical or just plain dread.
I am blessed to live in Yuma where we have not only a Community Based Clinic with increasing services, but we also have a Vet Center for personal, family, and social adjustments of our Combat Veterans and their families.
And, there is more. In a few days, I will host a group of community volunteers coming together to look for ways to help our returning Veterans succeed on our college campus.
Gratitude evaporates dread. Today, I am grateful not only for our VA services and a nation that provides them, but for having had the privilege to serve our USA in uniform. The honor is mine, and it always has been. Gratitude allows me to see that, today.
Thank you,America, and if you need me, again, here I am.
Dr. Erv Barnes is one of the thousands of veterans in our country who have given so much to the rest of us. We offer our humble gratitude for their devotion and service. I have become more aware of the issues of returning veterans by reading Erv’s blog.