Thursday, April 21, 2011

Bright bright light

A fellow journalist who was in the triage tent when they brought in Tim Hetherington said he was bleeding heavily from his leg and was very pale. They called it 15 minutes later. Perhaps this is disturbing, but I can't stop thinking about his handsome face, so pale.

He was so vibrant, earnest, and full of life. He was a warrior for warriors, striving to tell stories of those in the most remote corners of the world. The ones that most Westerners don't care about: Liberians. Child soldiers. Rebels. Filthy American soldiers. I am so thankful I got to attend one of his lectures on Veterans Day last fall, when he shared stories behind his frighteningly beautiful pictures from Liberia and Afghanistan. I think a little piece of me fell in love with him that day, it didn't hurt that he had a charming British accent, was over 6 feet tall, had striking eyes, and spent his days seeking out danger not as a killer but because he clearly loved other human beings.

Tim Hetherington did not have to repeatedly travel to the most dangerous valley in Afghanistan, just to be able to tell a story that wouldn't otherwise be heard. He didn't have to walk miles on a broken leg, so that the men he was with could get off the mountain safely. He didn't have to dodge bullets and RPGs, completely unarmed except for his hand held camera, just so that we could catch a glimmer of war from the comfort of our suburban sofas. He wanted us to understand. He wanted us to care.

We lost a light yesterday. A bright, bright light who strove to shine on the stories of the forgotten and the voiceless. I'm thinking of the men of the 173rd today, who shouldn't have had to lose yet another brother.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Fair winds and following seas.

I heard some very bad news yesterday. A man named Clay Hunt took his own life.

I didn’t know Clay. Our paths crossed once last year, we were introduced, and I remember thinking he had a really great smile. But I had heard of him before I met him. Several years ago my friend told me about this blog that a Badger football player was writing. A former Badger football player named Jake Wood, who enlisted in the Marines after graduating from the University of Wisconsin, and was deployed to one of the most volatile parts of Iraq. Interest piqued, I checked it out. This guy wrote well. Really well. And not just for a football player. Or a Marine. His writing was visceral, relatable, funny, and raw. I checked in on him regularly, prayed for him and his platoon often.

He wrote several times about his close friend Clay Hunt, who had been shot in the wrist by a sniper and had gotten involved in veterans advocacy during and after recovery. The veterans advocacy world is actually quite small. And let’s be honest, Clay Hunt is a really great name. It sounds like an invented pen name. It just stuck in my head. Clay had inspired Jake to also get involved in advocacy, to DO something to help change the world after their mission in the Marines had run its course. Jake founded something called Team Rubicon, an incredible humanitarian organization comprised of an unlikely partnership between Jesuits (some call them the Special Forces of the Catholic church), doctors, and Marines.

When I read my friend’s message that Clay had taken his own life, I couldn’t believe my own eyes. Clay Hunt? Not him. Not the one I met. Please let it be another Clay Hunt.

It was the man I met last year. Clay killed himself after wrestling with the demons of depression and PTSD, the demons of feeling displaced and disoriented after returning home from combat. His story could be the story of so many I know, close friends that wrestle with those same demons on a daily basis. After throwing my laptop on the ground and breaking into sobs, my next inclination was to call up every veteran I knew and make them swear to call me when they found themselves in that dark place again.

My grandfather once wrote, “War is one stinking, terrifying hell. There are no heroes in war. There are only the survivors, the dying and the dead.” I’ve had long conversations about whether or not there are heroes in war. I believe that there are. But they are not superheroes who gallop through a hail of bullets and bombs because they are “brave”. They are simply human beings who selflessly love the man or woman next to them. And the brave things they do are driven by that one simple rule of humanity: love for your brother.

Today my heart goes out to those who love Clay as a brother, who stood with him but ultimately could not save him from the battle. May he find the peace he so desperately sought, and may his loved ones find comfort in this time.

In a disturbing, seemingly cruel twist of irony, Team Rubicon announced a new initiative designed to help veterans readjust upon return home from combat…on the very same day that Clay killed himself.

There is so much work to be done.

Donate to Team Rubicon here:

Read another blog post about Clay here: Blackfive