Laughing and Weeping

12/31/2011 01:54 pm 13:54:36 | Updated Feb 28, 2012

Mauricio provided comic relief at one retreat. In the large group, he challenged his fellow Marine Kenny by claiming that, of the two Master Sergeants, he was on top of Kenny. Mauricio got everyone laughing about who was on top and who was on bottom. When he kidded the whole group about status and rank, we laughed even harder. It buoyed our spirits.

In the small vets group, however, Mauricio was quiet. Then, tentatively, he began speaking about how difficult it was to no longer feel like himself in body and mind. Due to several TBI's he couldn't remember important parts of his childhood. Given that he served as Master Sgt., with many Marines under his command, it was really tough that he couldn't function like he used to. He spoke slowly, with an undercurrent of deep emotion, a slight crack in his voice.

Jessie, blinded while serving in Iraq, spoke in the large group with gravity and conviction, sharing a profound sense of betrayal. After his injury, he had to become his own advocate and find the services he needed; a broken covenant. He asked me if folks could please say their names before they spoke; it helped him recognize them. I invited him to make his request himself. He asked simply and with dignity. Then, when someone began to speak they would stop, remember Jessie's request, and say, for example, "Sgt. Major, this is Jim." At Coming Home™retreats we leave rank and degrees at the door, but this was different: it was an un-choreographed expression of deep respect. When people forgot to identify themselves, Jessie would gently remind them. Once, when Jessie began go speak, someone said "You forgot to say your name." Jessie laughed and everyone broke out laughing, the role reversal incongruous, funny, and poignant all at once. There were times during the day where we laughed till we cried, and laughed and cried both, sometimes not knowing which was which. Our laughter also helped us bear the pain, and so was good for the soul.

What does this -- freely laughing, freely weeping, with the buoyant support of all -- have to do with the current debates about that ultra-saturated term, resilience? What do laughing and weeping have to do with becoming fully human? Stay tuned.