For the last three years I have served as the chaplain to the Wounded Warrior Regiment providing pastoral care to wounded, ill and injured Marines, their family members and the military and civilian staff who advocate and care for them. It has been a sacred privilege to have served in this capacity.
As I prepare to move on to my next assignment, here are some of the “lessons learned” that will go with me:
I’ve learned that injury and illness may place restrictions on a person’s activities, but do not define them. When Marines arrive at the hospital, they initially see themselves as patients. At the point they remember they are Marines who earned that title, healing increases its pace. The first time I met a quadruple amputee negotiating his way with prosthetics, he held the door open for me. An IED may have removed his limbs, but had no effect on his desire to be a gentleman.
I’ve learned that one of the best ways to decrease difficulties in whatever forms they present themselves is to increase joy. One way to do that is through athletic activities. The thrill of competition, of pushing oneself beyond perceived limits, of cheering for your team is quite healing. At regimental events, we know we have succeeded when a Marine refers to him/herself as a swimmer or a basketball player and not in relation to his/her injuries. A key component to increasing joy is the maintenance of a healthy sense of humor. Case in point, one of the favorite T-shirts for combat-injured Marines at Walter Reed states: “Wounded Warrior, some assembly required,” and on the back it says: “I had a blast in Afghanistan.”
I’ve learned that healthy connections are essential. Those who fare the best, whether wounded, ill and injured Marines, family or staff members are those who make the best connections. By this I do not mean the ones with the most friends. I mean those who feel connected to what matters most: the values that define them, the people who love them, the hope for the future that awaits them and the vision of their best selves. As a person of faith, I would also add those who feel connected to the God who never lets them go.
I’ve learned that the call of God upon a person’s life is not voided by illness or injury. It may be redefined and redirected, but it still remains. When our wounded, ill and injured Marines are able to discern and answer that call, becoming agents of care for others rather than just recipients, everyone benefits, especially them.
These lessons, about self-definition, joy, connection and calling are among many that I will carry with me not only to my next duty station, but for the rest of my life.
As we prepare to go our separate ways, I pray God’s blessing will be upon all with whom I have served and from whom I have learned so much.