Memorial Day in the USA has come and gone. I have been thinking a great deal about veterans of war recently. This is probably due to the really awful press about the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs (Veterans’ Administration or VA) and Ray Shinseki. As many know he holds the the post that oversees the VA The proverbial “they want his head on a platter” underscores the culture of blame in this country – and perhaps worldwide. I know nothing about Mr. Shinseki, but I do know that there is enough blame to go around. The change of one man at the top will not right wrongs.
Thinking about this tragic situation with the VA made me think about the fact that we live in a “culture of blame” in this country. Watching the news makes it appear that it comes naturally to wish to affix blame immediately for any problem that is discovered among us. I know it well not just because I have seen it over and over but because I have lived it. I was raised in a culture of blame. I know what it feels like to be blamed at a young age for mistakes or problems that may or may not have been caused by me. I ask myself, why do we do that? When a problem is discovered anywhere, that problem should be carefully reviewed. Facts should be gathered. Then they should be weighed to determine how and where the problem originates. Pros and cons ought be carefully determined and then decisions made that fix the problem with a solution that makes the entire situation better. Instead of affixing blame we should fix the problem sooner and faster. We would then waste less time and make needed changes more quickly.
When I ask myself, “why do we live in a culture of blame?” I do not have the answer. Is it a result of the need to be the best and the brightest? For surely we can be none of those things while we make mistakes. Is that why we need to make those mistakes belong to another? That question makes me think back to the time when both my mother and my father stated to me that there are two places in life: “first and last,” with nothing in between. This was an especially difficult view as they entered their children into competitions during all months of the year. It is of course a farcical view of life and one that is not true. This view of life does not allow for mistakes to be made while one is growing up. And what are the mistakes made along life’s pathway? They are merely moments of growth. Without the mistakes that we make, we would not grow, we would not mature and we would not be able to reach our dreams. Personal mistakes when carefully reviewed and nurtured help us to develop empathy for others. Empathy is one of the most important of emotions to develop for empathy is the place of caring (for others).
I spent two to three years at the VA as a volunteer in 2007 and 8. At that time I was developing my masters project while there. I was creating a booklet on creative writing for veterans. Oddly, due to the bad behavior of the one under whom I served (at the VA) this booklet did not come about. Instead I was to be responsible for bringing in and overseeing an event. Upon retrospect, this change was a very good thing. This event brought to the VA an expert author on creative writing with veterans. He had spent time in both Iraq and Afghanistan leading writing workshops for veterans I learned a great deal from him. My initial desire had been to work with young veterans returning from our most recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Andrew Carroll edited Operation Homecoming. This book supported by the National Endowment for the Arts is a collection of writings by service men and women at war. I recommend it to all. In my opinion we live in these modern times too far removed from our wars. And they are our wars. Those who serve are doing so in the name of freedom whether or not we agree with the current war. The old adage “war is hell” is very true. If we (the citizens ) are far removed from war, we will confuse the war with the warrior. We blame the warrior for the war, then we forget that warrior upon their return home.
While at the VA I worked primarily with those who had been to Vietnam or those who had served during that time. Not all had seen combat. As a result of war many were not able to engage life fully. Writing gave them a way to do that. Writing about your war experiences allows some of the pressure that you experience to dissipate. By sharing your feelings on paper and then sharing them with a class of like minded people, some of the pressure is released. That is a healing moment. It is something that works for any situation, not just war. I was able to see much of the good that the VA does. And although my thesis was changed, I had the opportunity to work with someone who truly loved and cared for her patients. While at the VA I wrote the following poem.
at this table
this quiet place
where they write
this flat surface
for the hungry ones
who wish to leave
eyes are glazed
not even longing
– Liz Rice-Sosne
© 2014, essay, poem, and portrait below, Liz Rice-Sosne, All rights reserved; illustration “Man Pointing” courtesy of George Hodan, Public Domain Photographs.net; bookcover art, University of Chicago Press, All rights reserved
LIZ RICE-SOSNE a.k.a. Raven Spirit (noh where), perhaps the oldest friend to Bardo, is the newest member of The Bardo Group Core Team. She is also our new Voices for Peace project outreach coordinator and our go-to person for all things related to haiku. She says she “writes for no reason at all. It is simply a pleasure.” Blogging, mostly poetry, has produced many friends for whom she has a great appreciation. Liz is an experienced blogger, photographer and a trained shaman. We think her middle name should be “adventure.”