When we launch a new Six-Word Memoir project over at SMITH Magazine, the goal is usually to engage as many people as possible. The reason six words works so well as a prompt to define your life, hone your company's mission, or just make sense of your day (or, in the case of so many of our passionate six-word scribes at SMITH Teens, every hour of your day), is because anyone can do it.
That's not the case with our newest project, a collaboration with Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), launched shortly before Veterans Day, 2010. With IAVA, the country's first and largest nonprofit, nonpartisan organization for veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we're asking vets for their "Six Words on Coming Home From War." (IAVA was founded by fellow HuffPo blogger, Paul Rieckhoff.)
"Two tours, no injuries, thank God."
"Hollywood fooled us, this is hell..."
"I don't know who I am."
On the one hand, only a fraction of people reading this post are veterans. Yet nearly 2.2 million Americans have served in Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11. Then consider that 1.2 million military spouses and more than two million children have experienced at least one deployment in support of the missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those families have extended families, and friends, and suddenly we realize just how many people are affected when one person goes to war.
Millions of words have been blogged, written as books and screenplays, and performed as theater about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and their aftermath. But these Six-Word Memoirs, directly from those who've served, provide a different, distilled perspective. It takes great courage to share the experience of returning home.
"I am okay. Honestly. Maybe. Not."
"Body at home; mind still overseas."
"Don't look at me with pity."
These days, so much of shared storytelling happens behind a computer. So it's especially fulfilling when the Six-Word Memoir project hits the road for readings and events, at bookstores and music festivals, and have a chance to meet the people behind the computer clicks. When we do, we learn a little bit more about them, and about the stories behind their words. So when the producers at PBS' Need To Know heard about "Six Words on Coming Home From War" and asked for our help getting in touch with some of the veterans we were happy to help. PBS interviewed a number of veterans, asking for the backstory behind their six words, some seen in this short, powerful video.
"Forgiving and trusting myself brought healing."
"Look how big you've gotten."
"Best. Words. Ever? 'Mom, I'm home.' "
War is not a simple concept. And yet this Veterans Day and every day, just six words can offer an unflinching glimpse into a soldier's heart. Talk a look.
Follow Larry Smith on Twitter: www.twitter.com/sixwords