In November, Intersections held several programs that honored servicemen and women. Our involvements are more than superficial gestures that do little to deepen civilian engagement with those who serve. Rather, we plumb some of the deepest emotions in the human spirit that warfare inevitably evokes—loss, love, guilt, triumph, tragedy, fear, hope, friendship, family, and the ultimate meaning of life.
The week before Veterans Day, we opened a two week run of Cadence: Home at Metro Baptist Church, on the edge of the Theatre District. The play offers an intimate, honest, and compelling entry into the world of four Americans recently returned to New York from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The audience journeys with each of them as they reconnect with their friends, their lovers, and their former selves – and as they discover their connections to each other through a comrade who didn’t come home. Many performances were sold out and, more importantly, audience members left moved by the complexities our service personnel face in reintegrating into civilian society. Then, on Veterans Day, Intersections supported an initiative by our two Veteran Civilian Dialogue (VCD) facilitators, Peter Pitzele and Larry Winters, who organized a silent vigil in Foley Square for service personnel who have taken their own lives. While I stood silently watching life go by in lower Manhattan, I was reminded of the scourge of suicide among our veterans and was moved to deepen my commitment to do more to change this reality.
We also held two dialogues just one week apart, including our first VCD in the CUNY system at John Jay College. As always, powerful personal stories emerged. In my group, there was a woman from Germany whose father was a Nazi soldier during World War II. She told how she had always considered him a war criminal, nothing more—even though he spent two years as a POW in a Russian camp. She shared how her experience in VCD helped her think of him now as a veteran, and how she wished she had had this realization before he died. Her grief at this missed opportunity was powerful and poignant. It is not enough to simply say, “thank you for your service” and then move on. Rather, it is through a sustained engagement between veterans and civilians, where stories from both communities are honored and shared, that leads to transformative change and social healing.