Are you following Invisible Wounds, the Humans of New York and Headstrong Project collaboration? Earlier today, I started to read one of the stories, which are told in several parts, and was instantly hooked. The stories are gripping, personal and vulnerable and I found myself thinking about the people in the photos all day.
From the photo above:
(1/4) “My brother went to Harvard. He’s ‘Good Will Hunting’ smart. I lived with him in Cambridge for a while, and I visited the campus chapel, and up on the walls they had the names of every Harvard man who’s died in war. The list was so long for World War I and World War II. It went all the way to the ceiling. But the list got thinner and thinner as time passed. The best and the brightest didn’t show up for Vietnam. And I understand. I get that it was an unpopular war. But they chose to not show up and there was a consequence for that. There were leadership failures. Standards were lowered and people were killed because of bad decisions. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were going to happen whether I chose to participate or not. I was a fortunate son of this country. I had a good family. I went to a private school. I graduated from a great college. A lot of the guys who served under me didn’t have those advantages. They relied on me to make tough decisions in dangerous situations. And I’m glad I was there to make those decisions.”
(2/3) “All we wanted to know was who the bad guys were. But nobody knew. We were getting picked off one by one and we couldn’t find the bad guys. Some guy who was helping you during the day might kill you at night. The enemy didn’t wear uniforms. Far more innocent people got hurt than anyone else. It wasn’t malicious. It was just legitimately confusing situations. When you’re driving to a meeting and a car bomb explodes, suddenly every car looks like a bomb. And you’re surrounded by cars. And anybody could have a suicide vest. And you’re surrounded by people. It was threat overload. And it was mentally exhausting. One day we were driving to a small village to pick up a young Iraqi boy. We were going to fly him to the US for a rare heart surgery. And I’m in the back of the convoy doing rear security. And this woman in a burqa starts walking toward me. And I’m shouting in Arabic for her to stop, but she keeps coming. And I can see she’s carrying something. She’s clutching something inside her burqa. And she won’t stop. And I keep trying to wave her away. I’m screaming at her and pointing my gun but she keeps coming closer. And I’m thinking that I have to kill her because she has a bomb. I have to do it. And I switch off my safety, and I’m just about to pull the trigger, and suddenly she opens up her burqa. And there’s a baby inside.”
(3/3) “I know guys who look back on the war as the best time in their lives. They’d love to go back. They only see themselves as a soldier and I want more for them than that. I want them to be OK with being home and finding new and better ways to be themselves. What happened to being a good person? Or being the best version of yourself? I think at the end of the day, everyone just wants to feel good about what they did. And so do I. But I don’t. I don’t want to wave the flag and say we killed those motherfuckers. I don’t want to be thanked for my service. I don’t think it made anything better and I don’t think we won any hearts or minds. For a long time after I got back, I isolated myself in a cabin and drank all the time. Then at one point I decided that I was going to try everything possible to feel better. I was going to try acupuncture, chiropracty, therapy, and if nothing worked, I was going to kill myself. Recently I’ve been experimenting with femininity. I’ve never been feminine. My father put me in mixed martial arts when I was nine. I became a blackbelt and a kickboxer. I was always the tough chick. Now I’m trying to go in the opposite direction. I'm being very cliche about it. I’m doing yoga. I’m wearing dresses everyday. I’m wearing make-up. I even joined a woman’s group. Every month we have a sacred circle on the new moon and do guided meditations, set intentions, and eat chocolate. God, this is harder to talk about than bombs.”
Repatriating after life abroad as a civilian is hard enough; I can't even pretend to know what it would feel like after experiencing the trauma of war. But it makes me want to go back and watch episodes in the first season of Homeland when Carrie and Brody connect over the shared experience of returning home forever changed. To be clear, I am in no way comparing living abroad to fighting in a war. I'm thinking solely of how all-encompassing immersion experiences change us. On a very basic level, there is a similarity and shared element. J and I started watching Homeland while we were still in Switzerland and I bet I would hear a lot more in those scenes between Carrie and Brody now than I did then.
Head on over to Humans of New York to read the remaining parts of these stories and more. I have such infinite respect for the Headstrong Project and the important work they're doing of helping veterans heal and return to normal life after serving in a war zone. A huge thank you to Brandon for featuring these amazing stories along with the beautiful photos. It truly does humanize these veterans and their stories and bring us all together.
(Photos via Humans of New York)