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Lean on me

March 29, 2010

Father Michael Lapsley, founder of the Institute for the Healing of Memories in South Africa

 For more than a year, a team of the Warrior to Citizen Campaign met monthly at 7:30 a.m., before their regular work days started. They’d been influenced by the personal story of Father Michael Lapsley–who lost both hands and an eye when he opened a letter bomb during his involvement in the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa–and even more so by the power of Fr. Lapsely’s approach to healing for people who have experienced different kinds of violence. 

The  work team believed that creating a safe and confidential space where veterans could tell their stories and have them acknowledged would help them integrate the experiences of military and civilian life. For some veterans, healing would come from the opportunity to reconcile their experiences with their values and beliefs. 

In October 2009, 12 veterans–from the Korean War, Vietnam War, Gulf War, and Operation Iraqi Freedom–participated in the first Healing of Memories workshop, held in St. Paul, Minn. 

They came seeking fellowship with other veterans, acceptance, a better understanding of themselves, and tools for “moving on.” Some of them knew that they wanted to help other veterans, and committed to training as future facilitators. 

The workshop was facilitated by Fr. Lapsley and another staff member from the Institute for the Healing of Memories in Cape Town, South Africa. Supporters made financial contributions to cover Fr. Lapsley’s travel costs and provide scholarships for participating veterans. 

“I appreciated being in a diverse group,” said one veteran. “I found even though we had different backgrounds we share a common humanity and I was impressed with the innate goodness of the people I was with no matter our pasts and our problems.” 

“I have a better grasp of my experiences from my last deployment and the negative hold they have had on me,” said another veteran. “I feel as if I have made progress in working through these experiences, owning what I am and letting go of the rest and moving towards freedom and healing.” 

Several of the veterans left with a bond to each other and continue to meet periodically as a group. 

In May, nearly two years after the work team first met, they will host a second Healing of Memories workshop. This time, local facilitators will begin training. That’s another step toward sustainability and the work team’s vision of making the workshop accessible to many veterans. 

Read more about the workshop and how to make a financial contribution

The Warrior to Citizen Campaign is organized by the Center for Democracy and Citizenship as a grassroots effort to provide lasting support to Minnesota’s returning veterans and their families. Since 2007, the center has helped community groups organize to take action, and convened a diverse working group that spans communities and organizations and coordinates statewide and policy reform initiatives.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. March 29, 2010 3:45 pm

    This was a wonderful workshop that made a real difference in my life. It was an honor to be with these men and women as we told our stories and together made one more step toward healing and reintegration
    If you are interested in helping veterans or perhaps would like to “pay it forward”, consider making a donation. It’s tax deductible! American Legion and VFW posts can even use their gambling receipts.

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