Listen to a soldier's story
A good way to thank our veterans is to sit with them in their most difficult times.
By Guest Blogger Chris Benguhe
Approximately 20 percent of the 30,000 suicides in this country each year are committed by veterans. That’s about 18 veterans committing suicide each day.
Sometimes we need to take a break from all of our own problems to talk to someone who desperately needs to be listened to and let the good Lord inspire us with something positive to say in return. Our returning soldiers need an extra heaping of that loving nowadays.
A startling proof of that came a few years ago when I met Robert, a young American soldier who had returned from Iraq a few months earlier after waking up on a pile of rubble with most of his legs gone. The former U.S. marine had been blown up while trying to charge a rocket launcher that was aimed at a mosque where a rival religion faction was organizing a voter-training meeting.
He was rescued by his comrades in arms and rushed back to a hospital in time to save his life. Then after a lot of surgeries and rehabilitation overseas, he was sent back to the United States and his family.
Predictably, things weren’t easy for Robert. His wife left him a few months after he returned, unable to deal with the pain that plagued his body and the darkness that persisted in his heart and head.
When I met him, Robert was sitting in a tiny Irish pub, staring pensively at the traditional Celtic band as they played a maudlin musical lament that perfectly illustrated his mood.
While sipping my usual cup of espresso in my favorite booth, I spied Robert looking a bit forlorn, to say the least.
“How’s it going?” I shouted over the music. “Are you having a good time?”
With military precision and conviction he shouted back. “I’m all messed up,” as he pointed down toward his strapped up legs – two prosthesis, bustling with wires, springs and plastic. “I’m in the hospital every other day,” he continued. “I’m in constant pain. At night I pop pain pills until I pass out. Then I wake up from the nightmares and pray to God I don’t fall asleep again.”
A bit overwhelmed by his honesty, I was tempted not to pursue the matter further, but my humanity got the better of me, and I walked over to his table to learn more. I soon discovered that what made Robert’s pain and suffering truly unbearable for him was that he could not be there for the most important person in his life – his six year-old-daughter. “I’m no good for her now,” he cried. “Not like this. I can’t even take care of myself, let alone be a dad. Seeing me so depressed and down isn’t what she needs right now.”
Because of this he had given up visitation rights to his daughter until he could get his life back on track. The way he spoke of his daughter lit up the room and my heart as well.
“You love that girl so much that you gave her up for her own good,” I told him. “Do you realize what a tremendous sacrifice that was? Being aware of your own devotion to her will fuel you to overcome this obstacle so you can get back to her. You now have a greater reason in your heart than you have ever known to recover!”
Robert raised his head from its slumber and got a bit of a twinkle in his eye as if a light bulb went off. “That’s true,” he uttered softly, the military acuteness giving way to a sober serenity. “I’ve really got something to work on now.”
I ran into Robert again a few weeks later, and I realized my words came at the tight time.
“You saved my life,” he whispered as he pulled me closer to give me a huge hug. “I was ready to swallow a bottle of those pain pills that night. But you made me realize how much I had to live for. I wasn’t messed up – I was alright. And I’m going to kick this all and get back to being a great dad for my little girl.”
Shock, amazement, confusion – I can’t even begin to express what I felt. I told him thanks for his words of thanks – and to pass on the favor some day.
Today, I am asking you to pass on the favor. If you know a vet, see one in a restaurant or even pass them on the street, take the time to say thanks and maybe to listen to their story. You just might help them to win the hardest battle of their lives, so we all can win the war we fight every day to make this world a better place.
Chris Benguhe is the author of Overcoming Life's 7 Common Tragedies: Opportunities for Discovering God, available at Amazon.com. His website is onemoredayalive.com. A portion of the proceeds for book sales through his website will go to the Wounded Warrior Project this month.
Guest blog posts express the views of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of U.S. Catholic, its editors, or the Claretians.