I have been the wife of a veteran for about ten years now.
It’s not something I ever thought would happen to me. I am also the daughter of a veteran, but my father’s military service was not something we talked about very much at home, except stories about my parents’ time stationed in Germany before I was born. When my dad died in 2017, it seemed to me that his military service was more important in death than it had ever been in life.
Living among veterans was a wake-up for me. As the wife of a veteran, I learned that nothing compares to the bond shared among veterans. I learned that being a veteran never goes away, it is always there. (Honestly, I think I might have understood my father better if I had known this.) I learned that I live day in and day out with the scars and experiences of my spouse’s time in the military. His soul is healed, but the scars are still there.
The concept of akicita
Learning the concept of akicita helped me understand and support the idea of military service.
Side note: Every week in our freelancers meeting the West River Eagle team has a “Lakota Minute.” It’s a time for us to explore a new way of looking at the world through a Lakota teaching. Last week the idea was akicita/warrior.
A quote attributed to Tȟatȟáŋka Íyotake/Sitting Bull teaches the difference between the way I was raised to think about a warrior and the akicita understanding.
“For us, warriors are not what you think of as warriors. The warrior is not someone who fights, because no one has the right to take another life. The warrior, for us, is one who sacrifices himself for the good of others. His task is to take care of the elderly, the defenseless, those who cannot provide for themselves, and above all, the children, the future of humanity.”
Whether or not Sitting Bull actually said this, the idea rings true: That a warrior’s job is to protect, not to glorify in fighting. What the saying leaves out is the cost to body, mind and soul of protecting others.
No one is unscathed
Last week I heard am amazing article on “This American Life” from NPR. “An Invitation to Tea” is the story of Mohamedou Ould Slahi, who was held at Guantanamo Bay for 14 years and who, when he was finally released, sent out an invitation to tea and conversation via social media to any of the American soldiers who were there with him.
Three of those soldiers responded and the conversations were recorded as part of a German documentary called “In Search of Monsters” by filmmaker John Goetz. (“Slahi und seine Folterer – Das Leben nach Guantanamo” in German.)
This is not a feel-good story but it’s fascinating. It’s complex, confusing, and filled with the mystery of how memory changes from one person to the next. What the story does well is convey the irrevocable damage to everyone involved. No one left that prison unscathed. Listening gave me a much better understanding of the wounds carried by the veterans among us.
Historical wounds, modern-day healing
On Cheyenne River our veterans not only carry wounds from military service in Guantanamo; but also Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait, Bosnia, Serbia, Somalia, Vietnam, Korea, Germany, France and Japan.
They have the added weight to carry of historical trauma from the warriors of Red Cloud’s War (1866-1868), the Black Hills War/Greasy Grass (1876-1877), and Wounded Knee (1890).
Modern day water protectors are 21st century akicita who remake the tradition of protection into sacrifice and service to Unci Maka through action at Standing Rock, Enbridge Line 3, and others.
All these warriors manage to blend modern-day service with ancient attitudes to create a culture of tolerance, respect, and gentleness. Warriors live and work among us. They inspire us on a daily basis through courage, wisdom and vulnerability. To be a warrior is not to live in conflict. It is to bear witness to brokenness and seek forgiveness.
On this Veterans Day, give thanks for the service of those among us. But more importantly, seek to live out the values veterans teach.