I’ve always had a respect for warriors.  Not necessarily for military branches or governments, missions or political agendas, but for warriors.  Those men and women who choose to fight for what they believe and put their lives on the line to do so.  I think this is in part because of my father, who fought in WWII, and who rarely spoke about his experiences there.  But he did have a great group of veteran friends and I was privileged to spend time with them and to hear their stories.  I think that this respect also comes from my people of the Cherokee Nation.  I come from a people who are known for their prowess in battle to this day.

The path I’ve chosen is of the healer.  Walking the path of a warrior requires that you take on certain medicine, certain traits that allow you to be the fierce protector, guardian spirit that keeps us safe.  It takes years, it takes effort, and like any path it molds you into a way of being.  The experiences you have in being that person change you, mark you, and damage you, sometimes to the soul. So when the tour is done, when the work is done, if you are one that is returning home to family and clan, who you are is a blessing and a joy and a danger and a sadness for everyone you return to.

There is no honor in dumping a warrior back into normal life and saying,”There you go.  Now go live like everyone else.”  They aren’t like everyone else and it is a disgrace to think that everything they are and everything they have done have no place among us.  When a warrior returns to us we offer healing and ceremony so that who they are can be honored and supported.  So they can healthily incorporate what they have been into who they are now becoming.  If I can claim any role in a warrior’s path, then it is to be able to help in that returning.  A returning that gives them a chance to not only come home, but to be home and to be, as much as is possible, whole.

One of the most healing things for all of our warriors when they return and as they live among us, is to be heard.  For those who have never fought, there is no way we can truly understand what they have done and witnessed.  It is a reality they have lived so that we don’t have to.  But we can listen.  We can be open and respectful and fully present while they relate to us their reality which lives in their hearts forever.  The fear and the regret, the fierce pride, the successes and the failures, the deprivation and relief.  And the heightened awareness in their lives that comes from knowing that safety is a myth and peace is a hard-won opportunity.

Take time this day to listen to the voices of our warriors.  Really listen, even when the voice speaking is hard or scary, when the stories they tell are horrifying or so sad they break you open inside.  It’s the least you can do for someone who lived it.  Parades are nice, but being heard, that’s priceless.