THE EPISCOPAL VETERANS FELLOWSHIP
CREATE YOUR STORY with ELIZABETH DECKER
This 2016 art and writing workshop gave Episcopal Veterans Fellowship participants an opportunity to express their stories with powerful words and bold colors. They reflected, created and connected to their personal stories through freestyle, stream of consciousness writing exercises. Each session focused on a different theme, resulting in a piece of writing and a piece of art at the end. A chapbook (below) was created and shared at the 2016 Veterans Conference on Moral Injury hosted by Episcopal Veterans Fellowship.
Brandy Carpenter, Robert Goodacre, Dwight A. Gray, Tony Hathaway, Frank Hutchison, William Livingood, David Peters, Bill Smith, and Lynn Smith-Henry
I Am (Hypervigilance)
I am returning to a civilized world
I no longer recognize.
Eight years go
to the night we toasted our brothers
beneath a mortar streaked sky –
too tired to run for shelter, too comforted
in the fire of a makeshift grill, too much
feeling as if the others should be here.
I am in a safe community of strangers
each one known by the chirp
of a car alarm, the slam of a door.
In the absence of danger we’re creating
our own fear.
I am trying
to wring stories out of a dry brain,
some by folks not here to tell them.
I am over the desire to look
for what’s falling from the sky,
but I am wondering if I shouldn’t be.
D.A. Gray, 2016
Adventure (Getting Back Up)
Before I’ve even taken a step
the legs become rubber.
It seems like hours, standing
atop Elk Mountain waiting
for the strength to come back.
Light begins to shape the prairie,
granite rock emerges,
as do bison grazing in a field
of Indian paintbrush.
Nearby, a lizard scampers out
on the ledge. My eyes still
focusing, I’m reduced
to hearing its soft feet clambering,
to forgetting ever falling. For a second
I can walk anywhere.
Dwight A. Gray
Dear Liberty and Future Adopted Children,
Courage, easier said than done.
To be courageous is to be different.
To be courageous is to stand firm in your beliefs but also be able to grow and not be scared to reshape your beliefs.
To be courageous, you must stand up for those who can’t.
To be courageous, you must love unconditionally, knowing great pain may come with such freeness of love given.
To be courageous, you must dance to the beat of your drum–not everyone else’s.
To be courageous, you must befriend others.
To be courageous, you must be comfortable with the philosophy,
SEE ONE, DO ONE, TEACH ONE.
To be courageous, you must learn to admit to your mistakes no matter how painful the consequences may be.
To be courageous, you must push past what you perceive is your potential to actually unlock your destiny.
To be courageous, be yourself–first and always. Make your own path. Be your own persona. Be YOU.
To my younger self: At this point
you’re still standing at the edge
of a sinkhole that’s been slowly
swallowing the ground, that’s become
the landfill for what won’t burn. You,
if you repeat this pattern,
will have your first drink
in a few more hours. You may think
you can escape. It will take years
to realize, no matter how much
trash you toss in this sunken place,
it will never fill. You can see
the trash of past lives,
truck parts, scrap metal,
all starting to rust, all which will still
be here at the end of this bender
and every one that follows.
Dwight A. Gray
COURAGE is at the core and heart, spirit and soul of every part of my being.
As a child I had to overcome fear and develop physical courage to stand up to bullies.
In college I developed mental courage to challenge ideas that were not right.
In my 33 year military career I learned to combine physical and mental courage with moral and spiritual courage.
As a commander I had to show other my faith in people and my beliefs and core values in my decisions and actions when it would have been easier to follow the crowd.
Our life journey is finding who we really are at our core–we grow most when we show physical, mental, moral and spiritual courage–and they all make a real difference.
Peace (Finding it Amid Chaos)
On the cold tile floor, too stiff for crossing
legs, I’m counting, inhaling, pulling
the room in and waiting for the discomfort
Six seconds since the last stray thought.
The first thought was money, the second
a sharp word I hadn’t heard in years.
Memory burns like a fire on the horizon.
Peace comes when I push the air,
and every negative thought, out.
Emptiness. I’m learning to let them pass,
the sirens at the traffic light,
last night’s argument, things
I can not change–all passing through.
Dwight A. Gray
We have seen good times
We have seen bad
We have seen wartime
At times we are glad
The Peace that we desire
I wore on my boots
To remind me of their sacrifice
To remind me of why I serve
These brave soldiers sought Peace
Stared evil in the eyes
Put us before themselves
The enemy took their life
I hope that their sacrifice
Will one day bring peace
For now I honor their gift
To an undeserving person like me.