We stand in a circle, holding hands. The person to my right squeezes my hand, I squeeze the hand of the person to my left. The squeeze becomes a pulse traveling the circle, each person's hand and arm contracting and expanding. Faster and faster, until no time elapses in between beats. We are a complete circuit of energy.
We are 12 adults preparing for a play. We are veterans and family members of veterans. The audience will be civilians. Just as children learn through play, so is our play teaching us, transforming us. And, when the audience sees us, our play will transform them.
But in our play, we will not be acting. We will be playing ourselves. And the audience will be no ordinary audience. They will have a role as important as ours on the stage: they will witness and own the stories we perform.
On April 25, 26, 27 and May 2, 3 and 4 we are putting on an Austin production of the Telling Project. Jonathan Wei created the Telling Project in 2008 to enable connection between veterans and civilians. And what better way to do that than for civilians to come together to hear veterans and family members tell their experiences.
Less than one percent of the U.S. population has served in our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The other 99 percent may think that service has nothing to do with them. Or that there's no way they can understand. Or they may not think about it at all. Yet our soldiers, sailors, and airmen fight in our name. They serve us, whether or not we agree with the decision to engage in the war. We must understand the consequences of that engagement. Because, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said "...all life is interrelated... We are caught up in an inescapable network of mutuality."
In our rehearsals, we have come to reside in that mutuality. I have experienced connection on a deep, deep level that I did not anticipate.
Our cast includes five veterans whose combined service spans twenty years: Steve Metz, Army and National Guard, served in Desert Storm, Bosnia, and Iraq; Regina Vasquez, Marines, served in Okinawa; Jennifer Hassin, Air Force, served in England; Malachi Muncy, Army/National Guard, served in Iraq; and Anisa Moyo, Army, served in Iraq. Family members include Laura Muncy, the wife of Malachi Muncy, Laura Hammons, daughter of Martin Milczanowski who served in Vietnam, and myself, daughter of Reuben Levinson, who served in Europe in WWII. This is an amazing group of people. Steve Metz created the documentary "Year at Danger" and the book Zombie Monologues. Regina Vasquez founded Fatigues Clothesline, the online community of survivors of MST. Jenn Hassin is an artist and creator of Letters of Sacrifice. Artist Malachi Muncy works with Combat Paper Project and Peace Paper as well as helping veterans and active service people at Under the Hood Cafe in Killeen. Anisa Moyo is a writer. Laura Muncy is an artist. Laura Hammons founded Daughters of Vietnam Veterans, and I founded Veterans' Children.
I did not know what to expect from the script other than somehow Jonathan and his fellow writers Charlotte Gullick and Chris Leche would create something from the hours of individual interviews they had done of us. The script stunned me. It interweaves our eight stories into theatre where some of us prepared for war, went off to war, left behind loved ones; where others of us had loved ones go off, lost loved ones, never expected to see loved ones again. Universal stories emerge from our lives. Every war story is contained in and foretold by The Iliad and The Odyssey.
We do not tell our stories separately, as if mine starts and ends here, then yours starts and ends, then the next. We tell one story, the story of what follows war. Jonathan, Charlotte, and Chris along with Schandra Madha intertwined our stories so that while they become one story, each person's truth stands out distinct and exceptional. The magic of the Telling Project is that it conveys how individual truths not only coexist but echo one another. How the project intertwines multiple stories to reveal the collective mythology that Jonathan aspired to reveal within the minds and spirits of veterans and their families. We, ourselves, are making new the ancient myths, the ancient archetypes from which we do not seem able to free ourselves.
From being a part of this, my own life makes more sense, the pain of my childhood receding because it is not mine alone. The trauma that had isolated me for decades now connects me. Under the guiding wisdom of director Stacey Shade-Ware, we learn to breathe and speak from our diaphragms, making funny sounds, silly faces, mirroring those of our fellow cast members. We have reunited with a family we didn't know existed. And we are part of an even greater circle.
Look closely into your family history. Was your father a veteran? Your grandfather or uncle? Everyone has a veteran in their family. That relative, no matter how distant, connects us now and always to all veterans. We are part of a web of mutuality. We can help heal just by listening. Just by listening.
This is our sacred duty.
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