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Mindful : February 2015
Band of Brothers and Sisters The rafters spend the last night of their trip at a ca mpsite near the tiny town of Grovela nd. Before get- ting into their cars to return home Friday morning, they stand, joined by Lesser and Fortin, in two lines that face each other. Many have tears in their eyes. The lines t wist around so that each person gets a moment to look each other in the eyes. The vets take turns telling each other, “Tha nk you,” a nd “You’re welcome.” After just a few minutes, many dispense with the ritual and simply embrace. These past few days spent beyond the reach of cell phones, TV, and computers, have helped them listen to each other with rare attention. Lesser and Fortin take precautions so that after all this intense closeness, the vets aren’t left completely alone. They name pairs to be buddies to check in with each other, and remind them to keep appoint- ments with psychotherapists. They announce a barbeque in San Francisco the following week, and more events, including veteran-leadership training, through the fall, seeking to build a community of war veterans supporting each other in their recovery. At the campsite, Lesser and Fortin also offer tips for re-entering daily life. “ How many people here a re feeling a nxious?” Lesser asks them. More than a dozen hands are raised. “It’s really important to notice where you feel anxiety in your body,” she reminds them. “That can become your ally. Think of it as your mindfulness bell.” Fortin, the other leader, tells them: “We’re talking about a practice of kindness. Not oohey- gooey kindness, but deep, courageous kindness. If I take a breath before answering the phone, I’m being kind not just to myself but also the whole world. Just stop whenever you’re feeling edgy or sad or alone. Put your hands on your heart. You’re right here.” Danny Martinez, who rescued Aaron Tozier from being “worked in the hole,” tha nks everyone “for being so friendly.” He adds, “I’m such a loner. I’ll sit at home all day and not do anything. I know it will be tough, readjusting, transitioning. I’ll take some time. I’ll practice my breathing.” Nearby, cars are revving their engines in the campground lots, reminding the vets of passing time, their own looming separation, a nd all the obligations, relationships, and emails awaiting them back home. Cha nge is inevitable. Good times and bad times alike routinely transform into something else. And, just as on the river, the safest path for- ward is straight into the waves. ● Zeb Virgil (above) at the beginning of the trip. He admitted to dealing with “survivor’s guilt” for having left the military before the Iraq invasion, during which two of his close friends were killed. At the end of the journey, Virgil— pictured here embracing HPW cofounder Chris Fortin—says “I think I’ve regained a lot of trust, not just with this group but possibly the rest of the world.” On facing page: Frankie Stoneham (left) and Jose Arana (right) take a moment as the trip is winding down. Katherine Ellison is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Buzz: A Year of Paying Attention. She profiled the deaf percussionist Evelyn Glennie in the August 2013 issue of Mindful. 50 mindful February 2015 veterans