Checking In After a Long Absence

Guest blog by BHD’s twin brother, J

JtunnelsunIt has been a long time since I have had reliable internet access and the time to read my brother’s blog and comment, much less write a guest post. But here I am. Where have I been?

Let me begin by thanking my brother for encouraging me to get involved with a wonderful non-profit organisation that trains selected volunteers with certain skills and supports them in working in war-torn yet recovering parts of the world.

In my work career, there were times when I went to certain towns and cities where the local population had suffered from extreme effects of political violence. Many people were displaced from their homes and life as generations of their families knew it. Many were hungry and malnourished. Catching a cold sometimes meant death, as they had no strength to fight off common infections, much less severe infections of diseases that most of us don’t think happen any more. Cholera, diphtheria, tetanus, measles, and much more… awful.

My heart broke when I could not do anything to help, because that was not my job — at the time! But now that I am retired (while my wife is still working), I had the time and through my brother’s encouragement, I set off on a journey to restore my soul and really try to help. This experience has done wonders, both for the people of the town in which I was working, as well as for my own self-perspective.

I am so fortunate. I have learned to treasure all that I have — a wonderful wife, a great family, a nice comfortable home, and the personal fortune, albeit meager, to provide food, health care, and a safe, warm home in which to live. I am healthy and alive!

I have many rich memories from my last six months. Some of them dreadful and sad, but most much happier than that. Hundreds of people received health care and medical treatment that they otherwise would not have been able to get. Thousands, yes, thousands, have a reliable source of nutritious food that will sustain them. Not just feed them at one meal, but sustain them through returning to farming and the old art of barter. A family exchanges chickens for another’s grain, and another family exchanges linens made on their own looms for another’s vegetables. An exchange of fruit for milled grains (flour) produces hundreds of loaves of bread for the entire community.

I can say that I led that … the community is stable and thriving. I have truly found my life’s calling — much like my twin brother whose journey in life I have admired so much, that he has incorporated caregiving for our uncle and aunt, and legions of what he calls his “senior pals” while working full-time and having a wonderful, stable home life with his husband (ooops… spouse… sorry, bro, he’s still your husband regardless of the gender-neutral term you prefer.)

I am back home now in Italy. I have been here for one week and am still adjusting. I awaken at night, startled and confused, thinking that hearing a truck on the autostrada was a truck with bad people in it. I scream or call out… then feel my wife’s hand slowly stroking my back and arms, then quietly whispering, “tutto è bene, Lei è a casa, Lei è sicuro. Lei è amato.” (it’s all right, you’re home, you’re safe. You are loved.)

At my wife and brother’s urging, I am speaking with a professional affiliated with my non-profit organisation who is good with helping volunteers deal with post-traumatic stress.

But let me not lead you to believe that my experience was all bad. I have many great memories and a tremendous feeling of accomplishment by applying my skills learned through my long career, languages, and persistence to make things better in the town where I worked, and for the families living there.

My wife and I were invited to return to spend Christmas with them, humbly and quietly. My organisation does not recommend that I return for at least six months so that I can put a perspective on my memories. I was thinking of surprising my brother and our family back in the U.S. for Christmas, but my brother suggested to return in the Spring when he will have more time to spend with me, and to allow me to settle in and return to spending time with the woman I love. Yes, he is correct — focus on the most important things in life — my “spouse” (okay, I said it!), and keep things quiet at home.

Thank you for the opportunity to share. This is the first time that I have written about my experience, which according to my PTSD counselor, is an important step toward returning to a good self-concept and bright outlook. Notice that I did not say “normal.” Nothing will ever be “normal” again, but my new “normal” is a rich set of applied experiences.

As my brother says, “life is short.” It sure is. I am so deeply appreciative to him and everyone who supported me on this mission of my life’s journey.