Friday, October 26, 2012

Vet school

An article posted by the Atlantic a while ago talked about the struggles veterans confront when re-assimilating to civilian life with particular focus on the isolation many go through when entering college. Author Alex Horton quotes them as perhaps the "least visible minority"on campuses. Veteran Kyle Lund explains, "The kid to your left is hung over, the girl to your right is there because her parents made her go, and the guy in front of you is there to get a high paying job ... When I'm in training, the guy to my left, right, and front are there for a common goal, and we're all facing hardships together."

On my semester back at school earlier this year, I had one of the most striking and rewarding performances of my career. I was awake, restless, and stressed. The day had passed, and I had been working well past a responsible bed time. Needing a break, I grabbed my guitar and went to the common room. I was confident no one would be there. I sat on the musty dorm sofa, opened my guitar case (I always love that satisfying click of the latch), and practiced some new compositions I'd been working on.

A disheveled student walked into the kitchen and started making some food while I played. After he presumably finished making the food, he walked over and asked, "Mind if I eat and listen?" I told him that I was just practicing, and that it would get repetitive, but he said he didn't mind. When I took my first tuning break, he said he enjoyed my music and offered some of the food he'd cooked. I didn't have much of an apetite and politely refused. He sat there for over an hour just soaking in the music.

Sometime during that hour, I found out that he was a veteran. He'd been deployed to Afghanistan and had fought on the front lines. Over the course of our miniature conversations, he'd opened up about the bombings, a life of constantly being on edge, and how strange it was being at school again after all he had been through. He also expressed his gratitude for the USO for bringing musicians and entertainers citing how the performers were always a highlight, always appreciated, and always a great respite and relief from daily stresses.

This young, twenty-something year old reminded me that music isn't just relaxation and entertainment. People thrive on positive communities, and few things can bring people together as quickly and deeply as music. Often, I worry that my pursuit of music is this terrible, delusional, narcissistic exercise to feed an insatiable, lonely, insecure ego. Then a lone student in a college common room listens to music with undivided attention and in doing so, shows that what I do has value beyond my ability to control. Heh, and as egotistical as that sounds, it's actually humbling. 

On that note, thank you to the men and women in the military that volunteer to put their lives on the line. Veterans live a life I can only begin to imagine and seldom get the love, support, and understanding they so desperately need and deserve. 

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