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Moments of meaning

Over three days and seven events of the Healing Vets Weekend, sponsored by the Pamlico Rose Institute for Sustainable Communities and a host other partners, and supported by more than 45 volunteers, many stories and moments stopped time and offered profound messages about the resilience of the wounded and the power of the community to help heal.

A Marine suffering from traumatic brain injury exhibited his work at the Healing Vets Art Exhibit that opened May 31. Art therapist Gayla Elliott, from Camp Lejeune’s Intrepid Spirit Concussion Center, submitted work of “patients” who had gone through her art therapy program, along with other local veterans submitting their work as well. Although still suffering himself from the effects of PTSD, anxiety, depression, fear of crowds and other conditions, the artist, along with another former patient, and fellow artist, drove up to attend the exhibit opening. That evening, the recovering Marine told Gayla he finally became an artist in his own eyes after seeing his work admired by those in attendance. His therapy had opened a door of creativity and formed a bridge to the next chapter in his life, not as a Marine or a sufferer of PTSD, but as an artist.

Team Rubicon is a nationwide nonprofit that engages veterans to help others in times of disaster and other emergencies. Margarieta Gellman, engagement coordinator Region IV for the organization, drove in from Maryland to set up a table on Friday at the Veteran Outreach Fair in Festival Park. She came to promote awareness of her nonprofit’s mission and to provide an opportunity for people to support veterans who give back.

“We fill a need for both veterans and the communities they help,” she told me.

Dr. Tracy Jackson, a local physician, participated as one of the Vet talkers. She spoke of the moment when she stopped thinking that medications such as opioids were the answer to chronic pain management. Her talk highlighted the positive effects of wellness and healthy behaviors that offered veterans with PTSD a path to recovery and healing.

Squier Red, lead vocalist of Squier Red and the Blues Band, addressed the audience at the benefit concert right after the VET Talks. He said his band had come all the way from Raleigh to play for free to support women veterans. Before the concert, he movingly told Pamlico Rose’s Board of Directors how, having served in the Marines for nine and a half years, his commitment to support veterans was strong. Needless to say, the board enjoyed his music, too.

At sunrise on Saturday morning, Festival Park welcomed a gazebo full of folks, some Ride for Rose Haven cyclists, and veterans of all stripes, doing yoga, a practice so beneficial to healing, under the guidance of instructor Sue Kammers, a former VA nurse.

A throaty roar broke the early morning quiet at around 6:30 a.m. as veteran and non-veteran motorcyclists from 95 E Touring Riders and American Legion Riders rumbled down the street to the park to begin to form a procession line. They were there to show their support for the Ride for Rose Haven, and to raise awareness of the needs of female veterans, as they led the cyclists out of town — the meeting of leather and spandex.

Author Sebastian Junger wrote of the power of tribe to bring veterans who suffer PTSD together and support one another through the often lifelong road to recovery. At 7:30 a.m., following the invocation and a plea for safety, when bikers climbed on their Harleys and Hondas, with American flags waving, and cyclists mounted their bicycles, and engines and legs readied to ride, Water Street was home to a tribe. As I said in my VET Talk, “It takes a village to heal.” A chill cascaded down my arms as the word “Go” signaled the start of the ride, and as one of the 50 cyclists, I pedaled off to follow the convoy out of town, all of us supporting women veterans.