To our First Responders across this great land, the many souls who have died as innocent civilians and brave Warriors since September 11, 2001, the families and friends who to this day miss and love, and to our living Warriors who continue daily to keep America safe,
LZ-Grace Warriors Retreat honors you today and each day.
We will Never Forget.
My heartfelt gratitude and special thanks to:
Our local Fire and Rescue Captain and Firemen;
John “Jack” Dye, NREMT-B, EMT Scott, and Maria Rataiczak for honoring us with your presence;
Loretta Morrison on bagpipes and the beautiful rendition of Amazing Grace;
Diane Van Campen for organizing and proving nourishment to all;
Sherry Van Campen, Toni Donlinar, Kristine Mynes, and Aaron Bukowski for working so hard to prepare LZ-Grace for this solemn and beautiful day;
to an unnamed and loved individual for wisdom, magic and guidance;
and to Nancy Watters, for filming, editing and producing a brilliant video on a moment’s notice.
It is only by risking ourselves from one hour to another that we live at all. ~William Jones
Late at night we gossip about small events and the largeness of life. The darkness softens and I am nearly asleep when I remember one last thing I want to tell you. You know this about me. How my thoughts swirl and settle until they are ready for my voice. My final sigh, just before words, is always your cue to reach for me and hush me with a kiss.
“Tell me tomorrow,” you say.
Just before dawn you pull me around you and love me awake and whisper, Tell me now, and of course I can’t remember what I was going to say… seven long years ago.
I burrow under the guilt and try so hard to remember my one final thought and that one final day. The way the corners of your mouth turned up waiting to hear my thoughts, the way your beard scratched my skin, the way you moved in just the right way so I fit like a perfect puzzle piece against you and where that beautiful thought takes me is back to the beginning.
I’m on stage looking into lights so bright they blind me. I wait for the thrill to kick in, the adrenaline rush, and the wave that fills my lungs and lets my voice rise. I’m edgy tonight and the lyrics I need feel trapped in my throat. The bass vibrates through my bones as the opening bars to Van Morrison’s Moondance backdrops the club owner’s introduction. I hear, “Welcome Whitefeather…” and the drum brush strokes soften the bass and the piano chords kick in and it’s time to let go. I grip the microphone with both hands, breathe deeply and sing, Well, it’s a marvelous night for a moondance…. And there you are front and center – blue eyes blazing – with the stars up above in your eyes… I stare at you and sing with my eyes open and you seem to wait for the lyrics, You know the night’s magic, seems to whisper… and hush… before you ask me to dance.
In the middle of my song.
Because you already knew I’d say yes.
The audience thought it was part of the show, the band thought it was kick-ass, and you… well, you were always the master of calculated risk. You still are. You step into my space and back into Heaven as though you’re simply leaving for work.
I hope I can fully learn how to live in both worlds.
In this world the dawn pulls at me and I lie very still and wonder aloud, “Don’t you think that two souls connected must take turns being alive? You know, like pearl divers do. Whoever is on the surface must count the air time left so the one below can dive freely.”
I so often feel the tug on the line these days. Are you counting my breaths?
When the dogs coax me awake, I get up and wander through the house toward the scent of brewing coffee and in the dark, I trip over a pile of photographs waiting to be packed. I flip the light on and the two photos I find under my bare foot make me know without doubt you are still very much alive – somewhere – calling the shots. One is of me, posing for a band shot and the other is a distant shot of your antics on the way to our platoon honeymoon in Baguio.
I have no idea who said, I take nothing for granted now. A photograph is as precious as the moment it became a detail, but they are lovely words and poignantly true. I place the photos on the table, pour coffee and take the dogs out into the dawn.
Somehow, through your magic, I look over and you are dangling off the top of a giant Lion’s head carved into rock on the way to Baguio in the Philippines. You grip a piece of the carved mane with one hand, reach out to me with your other hand and say, “Don’t close your eyes.”
I close my eyes and wonder how I let you talk me into this.
While the platoon yells encouragement from twenty feet below, I worry about how I look in these jeans and, of course, falling to my death, and I shout at all of them to close their eyes and get back on the bus. Of course they ignore me and stay where they are; ready to catch both of us if we fall.
I reach across to you and hold on with both hands.
I find a foothold and then another and you lower me slowly into the waiting arms of your Brothers. You follow me down and when you reach for me a cheer goes up. Your grin and their antics let me know what kind of honeymoon I’m in for and you whisper just to me, Never be afraid to live on the edge, babe, I’ve got you.
I wonder now if you knew then I would never be tied in and to do this alone I’d have to live on faith and grip life with both hands.
In this dawn, the weight of you gone is so heavy. Grace is the only hold I can find.
Inside, I leave the lights off and sit cross-legged in the center of the floor surrounded by half-packed boxes. I try to imagine how I will make sure with this final move that your tenderness and presence of strength is gently moved and firmly planted at Grace. What size box do I use for living dreams and night whispers and favorite songs?
I touch one photo and then another and God says, this is not the beloved, this is not the beloved, this is not the beloved. And I begin to understand that I am the container, my heart is the wrapping, and nothing will fade if I keep all of this within me.
There is nothing left to do but keep dancing. And by dancing I mean living. And by living I mean step by tiny step. I know this much is true now: we do not become all of who we are until we’re forced into it. Hemingway called it, “a grace under pressure,” which suits me these days, but I believe he meant it as a strength that rises up when we’re faced with a larger than life challenge.
This is mine: taking your impromptu visits, our memories and our dream and using them all to step into my future.
I’ve got this with both hands and enough of you in me and around me to love whatever gets in my way until it ceases to be an obstacle.
June 2017 update: It has been three years since I woke in the wee hours from this dream and each day that followed has been a whirlwind of miracles, generous hearts, and tremendous hands-on help from family and Steve’s “Brothers”. I’ve met brilliant new life long friends and united with old friends who, as I do, care deeply about our Warriors finding a bit of peace in the midst of 16 years of war. Through God’s Grace, since March 2015, 383 souls have graced this land. Never doubt that miracles are real. With Steve’s spirit urging me on, I will continue to grow and hold dear, this sacred place of rest and renewal.
Years ago my parents moved to the country and bought a little farm. 17 acres…trails…ponds…horses… grass.
It was a place of respite, a place my father found peace during and after 32 years of military service. He went to work remodeling, building, designing and mowing, all with the dream in mind of having his Brothers (his team guys) and their families come WHENEVER they wanted simply to rest from the world. When he went to plant the beds in front of the house he decided he wanted a huge red maple but there were none anywhere. My parents drove hours and hours looking for a nursery for this ONE baby red maple to grow in the front yard.
When he died- leaving piles of wood, flooring, his brand new jumping horse and a thousand little dreams unfinished – my mom and I would look at that tree and laugh. “At least he got to plant the damn tree.”
Nearly four years have gone by and the vision to build a retreat for our Brothers in service grew in my mother’s heart. And it grew and it grew, and things started to happen. We found a property further south and looked at it- it was gorgeous and out front was a statue of St. Francis. The plantation wasn’t available yet but we knew St. Francis was a sign. He was once a warrior who devoted his life to the service of his brothers. Who found rest and Peace, and God … outdoors, in nature, protecting every living thing.
Two years went by and with the statistic of 24 Veteran suicides a day, we were feeling the weight of this need. When we LEAST expected it, we happened upon a property that fit EVERY SINGLE NEED we had for this vision. It had been reduced from $2.1 Million to $995,000. Already it looked promising and as we toured the 35 acres of gorgeous oak, pine, ornamental pear trees, standing at the end of the line, as if leading an army, was this one red maple tree. About the size my dad’s tree would have been if he were alive. The only one in sight. The only one in over 38 acres around us and we knew.
We just knew.
From that point every single corner we turned was another sign – even a woodworking room with lumber ready for rebuilding- as if he picked up the pile from our old house and dropped it off at the new place just so we felt at home.
Oh yes, and there in the back of the property, hidden in clover, looking at the muck of our back bay, a small statue of St. Francis looked on, minus an arm and with a gape in his core. It was a grotesque coincidence, that our dream was to help veterans regroup and regain life after 13 years at war and here was this man, a veteran warrior, with a hole in his heart, just needing a hand.
I started to weep.
We simply could not afford this on our own. We called family, our friends called friends and long story short – between an amazing guy in Beverly Hills, a Brother Frogman and world renowned star, and a few other divinely set-up people, within DAYS our offer was on the table and ACCEPTED.
Within hours we had $100,000 for our deposit and the contract was signed but there was one more condition – we come up with $90,000 more to put down not because they were trying to deter us but simply because of regulations. So – here we are – 10 days from closing and we are in need of oh you know, just an extra 100K.
We believe this is supposed to happen and we have no idea how. It’s brought a community of people together already which I believe is a miracle in itself, but we need more. So friends, please pray. Please share with those who have a heart for our Veterans, and for this dream. Please give if that’s what you can do. And if you have insight, vision, thoughts, ideas, let us know! It’s just the beginning and we need all the chutzpah we can get.
I’ve come to know that where there is damage and pain there is also truth to be found. And when one of us somehow finds our way out of the abyss or the tunnel or the woods, we need to share our way out or through.
Everything comes with risk. But if you’ve lived through war and find your way home to Landing Zone Grace (LZ-Grace Veterans Retreat) there is not one thing you cannot overcome and achieve.
When we release what we’ve lived through and find connection with other souls, we are inspired to live on, to use our scars as road maps, to reignite a marriage, to find safety again with family and friends and to pass our strength and experience forward to all the world.
Please consider supporting LZ-Grace Veterans Retreat. Our mission is service and our immediate needs are funding and an existing site so we can begin serving our Warriors as they come home in 2014.
Find out more about me and my mission to serve our Special Forces Warriors and their families here:
NRANews.Com Veterans Day Special Interview with Cam & Company
BBS Radio Interview with Leader of the Pack Susan Herbert and Mark German. Find them at http://www.H4Hero.com
Love is not static: it is a living, dynamic force that melts down all barriers and boundaries.
LZ-Grace Veterans Retreat will be a place of healing with love, which is a simplistic explanation for a complicated undertaking. After a recent and hysterical conversation with a woman steeped in wisdom, it seems the perfect time to share a bit more about who I am and what my vision is for LZ-Grace. To that end, I present a radio interview I did just over a month ago with Rob Dubois, author of Powerful Peace: A Navy SEAL’s Lessons on Peace from a Lifetime at War on his radio program Powerful Peace Blog Talk. I continue to be honored and grateful for the opportunity.
A few days ago I found myself in conversation with a 93 year old woman named Grace. Her eyes glistened with tears as she told me about her husband returning from World War II and how difficult it was for both of them, especially because she was still working at night. She was tiny and limber and could crawl into small spaces so her service as a welder on war ships was in high demand. She was proud of her husband and proud of her service and reminded me that there was a time when the citizens of this country – young and old – worked together to defeat the enemy and heal our own.
When I began to talk with her about my vision for LZ-Grace Veterans Retreat the conversation took a turn I did not see coming. Her wit and wisdom is too precious to keep to myself.
Grace: LZ-Grace. I like the name. L a z y Grace. Suits. What exactly is this place going to be?
Me: A Veterans Retreat. LZ is an acronym for Landing Zone, not Lazy. It will be a safe place to land… a place for Warriors to come home from war and heal with love.
Grace: Now, that’s nice. That’s a fine thing for you to do for the boys coming home. In my day they called that kind of place a Brothel. She looked me up and down. Well, you’re young and pretty… should do just fine, but you don’t seem the type. She put her hands on her hips, grinned at me and asked, You hiring?
Me: Oh dear. I choked back laughter. It’s a Veterans Retreat where men and women returning from war will come for a few weeks to rest, renew and reconnect. I want to help them return with confidence and purpose to family and civilian life.
Grace: Well now, that’s a relief. That other business is difficult and thankless work and I’m not sure I’m up to it anymore.