“When a culture simply shrugs about what happens to people in war, it breaks the fragile sequence, the bond between all people.”
– Michael Meade
Michael Meade leads Veterans in song at Memorial Day Welcome Home event in Ashland, OR
The mission of The Welcome Home Project (WHP) is to heal a cultural wound by bridging the historic and painful divide that exists between veterans (including their families) and the civilian communities in which they live. In order to encourage this effort in communities nation-wide, the WHP is raising the funds needed to outreach and distribute the film,The Welcome which documents a remarkable five day healing retreat for veterans and shows how veterans and their communities can come together in reconciliation, deeper understanding and acceptance. The film is used in local communities around the country to catalyze similar gatherings and programs to raise awareness and inspire a long-avoided dialogue about Warriors, their Return, and the essential role of the civilian community in bearing witness and helping to provide meaning and purpose in the aftermath of war.
Traditional cultures have always understood that warfare transforms the soldier, and that simply returning him or her to the community in the aftermath was dangerous, both to the veteran and to the society. This danger can be seen clearly all around us now. The elders in those cultures wisely devised rituals and ceremonial rights of passage that were aimed at preparing the soldiers and their communities for this reentry. This preparation usually involved a period of isolation and cleansing for the veterans with elders and peers.The Welcome documents the remarkable depth of this “old approach” to working with veterans and Post Traumatic Stress.
Just as important, civilian communities also needed to prepare. They danced, drummed or created songs and art in anticipation of the homecoming. Our modern culture has no such tradition and most civilians are at a loss as to how to engage veterans and their pain. Stereotypes abound, isolation results, and communities are split. The Welcome prepares civilians nationwide for an honorable reconnection with veterans and their families. Our motto: Welcome the Vet, Heal the Community.
Unlike most of the movies that have been made about these wars, which slam the viewer with death and destruction or blatant politics, The Welcome is about healing. It is about finding the beauty and the wisdom that great ordeals inspire in people. Where the viewer is invited into an intimate gathering of the wounded in which traditional tales and the dignity of ceremony provide the structure which allows the painful stories of war and its aftermath to be transformed into the personal poetry of the veterans. As the universal language of the soul, poetry subtly turns the experience of the writer and deeply touches the heart of the listener. As the poems are read to a large public gathering on Memorial day the film highlights the value and courageous willingness of a civilian community coming together to bear witness and receive the truth of what our war veterans bring home.
This coming together of veterans and the civilian public is what has been missing in the coverage about Post Traumatic Stress, suicide, divorce, substance abuse, etc. Without the wider community open and willing to receive everything that comes home from war with them, millions of veterans and their families are destined to live in cold isolation, reminded only of the wars they fought, not of the wisdom they now have to offer, and that the rest of us need.
The Story Behind the Film
On the afternoon of May 22, 2008, twenty three men and women, including five spouses or partners, arrived at Buckhorn Springs Retreat Center in S. Oregon. Each of them a veteran – from Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, or from marriages and partnerships dominated by memories of these wars. They came with the hope of a new way to work with Post Traumatic Stress, a new way to understand themselves and who they had become. All of them were nervous, uncomfortable with this new situation: unknown people, a new place, a history of inadequate approaches to PTSD, and an unusual notion of working with war and its aftermath with stories, myths, song and their own poetry. Remarkably, they did this knowing that they would be presenting themselves to the public in a large community welcome home ceremony at the end of the retreat. And they did this knowing that they would be the subjects of an intensely personal documentary film.
For the next five days, these courageous men and women came together, formed what Michael Meade, story teller, mythologist and master facilitator of the event, called a “sudden community”, and began to explore what it means to heal from their experience of war. The days included deep conflict, dark personal anguish, and a slow coming together of men and women who felt supported and understood as only other veterans can understand and support each other. They listened to ancient stories about war and healing, and began to tell their own. They listened to each other and began to unfold the beauty that along with pain lies at the heart of tragedy. To express this beauty they wrote deeply personal poetry describing their reality, both in war and at home. Finally, on Memorial Day, 2008, they brought their poetry and song and presented themselves and their stories to an audience of over 600 men and women, many veterans themselves, who came to honor and receive these men and women back into the community, to truly welcome them home.
The Story: The Film-Makers
In frustration over the lack of knowledge and connection they felt with the reality of the experience of millions of returning veterans, Kim Shelton and Bill McMillan, spouses and co-directors, conceived of The Welcome Home Project in order to become more involved and to offer a way for the larger civilian community in which they lived to actively participate in the return of our soldiers. They invited Michael Meade, author, mythologist and story teller to bring his genius for working with myth, stories and traumatized communities into work with veterans. He and his foundation, the Mosaic Multicultural Foundation, co-sponsored the remarkable five day healing retreat and public welcome home ceremony that took place over Memorial Day, 2008. Most important, once the idea became known locally, the larger community of Southern Oregon joined in hundreds of ways to help make the event happen. The donations, time, expertise, publicity, organization and raw enthusiasm of the local populace made this possible, and demonstrated the huge desire of the people to be a part of the healing of our veterans. They taught us a fundamental lesson – this is as much about civilians as it is about veterans.
Facts: Nation-wide there are over 23 million veterans living in America. All of them have families; They are mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, friends.
- Nearly two million men and women have served in either Iraq, Afghanistan or both.
- Over 200,000 women have served in active duty in these wars, often in combat.
- There are 7.2 million Vietnam Veterans currently living.
- On any given night, up to a third of the homeless are veterans.
- Conservative estimates say that one third of those returning from the current wars return with Post Traumatic Stress, Traumatic Brain Injuries or both.
- Nearly 4,300 Americans have been killed in Iraq (Nov. 2009) – Over 30,000 have been physically wounded.
- Nearly 1,000 Americans have been killed in Afghanistan.
- Estimates of violent death of Iraqi civilians range from 100,000 to over a million since the wars began. All of us must live with that, especially those who were there.
The Welcome Home Project Leader