Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC) 2019


Twelve years ago, when I first started to work with the US Military, a mentor of mine mentioned for me to write about my experience: teaching those who have returned from war… and are not quite the same. I wrote for a year. That was in 2009. Then, I stopped. I became personally invested in the wellbeing of patients. I felt I would betray their trust to blog about them.

In the years that followed, there were numbers of people who contacted me and wanted to get ‘in.’ I felt pestered by many and angry at a few. Photographers wanted to take pictures of US combat veteran amputees in class. Journalists looked for a story about the armed forces practicing meditation. A television director asked to film in the middle of the hospital. There were yoga studio owners who wanted me to bring veterans to them. I turned a lot of them away. The work is what took precedence.

Occasionally, an unassuming yogi, a baby-boomer hippie, a military spouse, or an old vet would contact me. I let them in. I trusted my gut and had a handful people shadow me throughout the years. The reality of being in a military medical center is heavy. No joke. Although, the jokes would roll from time to time during class. Part of the healing process!

I am the son of a warrior. I am the son of an immigrant as well. My parents were both diplomats. I grew up in a Maryland suburb of Washington, D.C. My life was intertwined with the international community, government and military. I have been around service men & women all my life. I went the opposite direction and became an artist. Karma, being what it is, brought me back full circle to the armed forces community.

An active service member who has been down range . . . is not my experience. Although, I can see it in their eyes. Who has been to war. In the lines of their face. How they enter a room. How they position their body. How motionless they can get. Overly alert. They bare a weight. Some a darkness. A coldness. Some know Death.

There is much I cannot say. So, my action mostly, is to just be. To be with the intensity, the damage, the confusion. The uncomfortable moments. The stares. The machines that are part of their bodies. The spouses, partners, children and friends who are affected. In the middle of this, I will call upon the power of stillness. Of kindness. Generosity. Humor. Compassion. Forgiveness. Respect. Acceptance.

One spring, a veteran gave me a seedling of a melon. I planted it in the earth in front of my place, where the morning sun would shine. I watered it regularly. That summer, it bore fruit and one day, I brought a cantaloupe to class. I cut it up with my pocket knife on an occupational therapy table. We stood there among the mechanics of a hospital confine, three patients with their walkers and walking canes, one yogi with his flip flops, and we enjoyed it tremendously. The skin. The seeds. The color. The taste. It was so peaceful. We smiled.

I’ve always said, ‘Nature is the greatest teacher, the greatest healer and does not judge anybody.’ I think this is where we find common ground.