Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Vietnam vet offers advice for someone stuck in mental jungle

My sister Sarah and I stopped by the Sugarloaf Craft Festival in Montgomery County, Md. with the girls over the weekend. While I was there, I got to talking to Rip Bodman a serigraph artist whose work caught my eye. 

I'm not sure how we got on the topic, but Rip (great name, right?) mentioned he'd been in the service and spent 18 months in the jungles in Vietnam. He talked about how it took him 20 years to heal from the mental wounds he received from that year and a half in infantry. He still gets nightmares -- although he said they've changed over time. 

I told him I knew someone who was trying to survive life at home after a tour in Afghanistan. He offered a lot of advice or thoughts or what have you. A few things stuck out to me and gave me some clarity on my friend.

He said my friend will never be a civilian. 

He said this person should look at life through small rearview mirrors. I asked what he meant by that. Focus on that big windshield, he said, not on what's behind you. We could probably all use that advice -- and I love the metaphor. 

Almost as much as the next one he told me.

He also said my friend would be OK as long as he kept the taproot alive. I asked what he meant by that. You can take away all the leaves, the stems and branches -- cut yourself back to nothing, he said, but as long as you have the taproot in tact, you'll survive and grow.

Those of you who know me might know I have a small obsession with trees -- both aesthetically and how they symbolize strength, connectedness, longevity, wisdom. Years ago I even wrote about a tree I found growing in a park nearby and the Novel has trees at its center.

And now they'll be a taproot, too. 

Before parting ways Rip handed me a couple pins:


The one on the left he said is the symbol a majority of the world is familiar with. The one on the right is for my friend. Rip said it could take at least 10 years to grow. 

I can't imagine 10 or 20 years of waiting for the chance to breathe. But then -- if you're in the middle of the battle maybe the prospect of an end in sight -- even if it is a decade away -- will give you a reason to keep fighting. I hope so.

Artists are such a generous bunch with their inspiration.

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