I glanced up from my watch on my way to the Goethe Institut and saw a group of people in the dim streetlight in front of the door. They stood at odd angles to one another, each in their own posture. If they were conversing, it was quiet and private, no touristyammering or drunkblathering.
Slouching into the late evening heat, they emanated a sustained subsonic anticipatory wave for the seconds they held that fleeting tableau. As I approached, they broke and greeted me as I had met this cast after witnessing their affecting performance of Outside the Wire, the story of a soldier’s return from Operation Iraqi Freedom., “Of course they are here…” I thought; we were all going to see What It’s Like? One Veteran’s Tale of Addiction, Survival & PTSD.
Funny, heartcrushing and surprising, playwright and poet Richard D. Graham, Jr. channeled his audience through the chapters of his life from enlistment to return, and the entire room hung on his every word, whether it came from his mouth or from the fingertips of his ASL translator, M. Keith Island. After living the burned and bloody violence of the war, Graham returns stateside to rejection, abuse, addiction, homelessness, the suicides of brothers in arms, and his own death match with PTSD.
The performance left me feeling that I had seen a sequel to Outside the Wire, even though the character of Army Sgt. Mercer served in the Army from 2003-13 and Graham’s very real service in the Marines took place during Operation Desert Storm 1990-91. And Graham’s vivid tale made me wonder, even with all the love in the world available, if all the Mark Mercers and Richard Grahams struggling to overcome PTSD could ever be repaid or healed.
What It’s Like? One Veteran’s Tale of Addiction, Survival & PTSD
by Richard D. Graham Jr.
at Goethe Institut
812 7th Street NW
Washington, DC, 20001
Details and tickets
This kind of struggle is disgracefully too common in the United States of America, and Graham recounts his story with courage, humor, humility and grace, and the parts he physicalized were especially potent. Throughout the show, and in the short discussion afterward, Graham was clear that he is a work in progress. But what also sang through again and again is what kind of personal courage it takes to survive as a returning warrior, and that the support of community, wherever we find it, is critical to that survival.
Politics being moot in this respect, these stories unequivocally compel us not to be mute when it comes to finding multifarious strategies to take care of those who return home bearing the lasting burdens of war. The need is especially imminent as we anticipate the return of more and more soldiers from Afghanistan in 2014.
Courage is NOT the willingness to act irrespective of the danger; it is the willingness to act knowing full well what risk is involved. Even just the glimpses these stories provide must inspire the courage and the impetus to take care of these men and women, to welcome them actively into our communities, and to offer all the support and love they need not just to survive, but to overcome the horrors they have witnessed, and to take their rightful place in our society, which desperately needs the skills, discipline and honor they gained from service.
Recommended for all thinking adults.