The movie chronicles the experience of four Soldiers returning from service in Iraq, and trying to transition back into their old lives. It was striking to me, and very telling, how many scenes in the movie reflect stories that I’ve heard from combat veterans – issues with getting proper benefits and treatment for injuries and wounds; feeling overly medicated to deal with post-traumatic stress and medical issues; struggling to deal with a world that seems so trivial and unimportant now; and one scene where being cut off by a random car in traffic brings out a combat-like reaction that is totally disproportionate to the situation. That scene was almost verbatim what I’d heard from a Soldier nearly three years ago.
There are certain phrases that we hear throughout our lives, some on almost a daily basis, that we eventually take for granted and don’t give much energy to anymore; “home of the brave” being one of them. We’ve all heard that so many times that we likely don’t give it much energy anymore; at least not as much energy as it is probably due. But what struck me in a very powerful way at the end of Home of the Brave was that perhaps that phrase isn’t limited to those who have bravely served in combat. That may be the most obvious, and perhaps most significant display of bravery that we can point to. But it is not the only example that exists, nor is it the only one that we need.
There is another bravery that we need right now, and that is from us – civilians. We need to be brave enough to support those who serve for us. We need to repay their bravery with ours. Now, you may be thinking, “What bravery is required of us? What can we do that is so ‘brave’?” The answer is we need to be brave enough to love and support those who need us, despite how challenging that might appear at times. Just as a Soldier displays bravery in helping a fallen comrade out of a hot zone and back to safety, we have a responsibility to help our Veterans and Service Members back to safety.
That means holding a space for them wherein they can safely make their transition back to the world without combat. It means holding our judgment of behaviors that appear out of the norm. It means allowing them the time and space to re-acclimate. It means respecting their experience and holding them in the highest esteem even when they appear to be at their weakest. It means acknowledging that we cannot possibly understand what they are thinking or feeling, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t try. It means offering understanding as best we can given our lack of direct experience, and not pitying them if they are struggling. And it means loving them when they are not being very loveable.
There is a scene in the movie in which Samuel L. Jackson is standing calm and controlled as another Soldier waves a pistol in his face. He is calm, partly because he knows that he must remain calm to diffuse the situation, and partly because he understands what the Soldier is going through. Brave. When these Service Members come home, it is our turn to be that brave. To stand calm, but supportive, with respect, and dignity, and compassion, and the most understanding that we can possibly offer, and to love them back to a place of safety just as they would for any fallen comrade, whatever that place of safety looks like for them.
That is how we as civilians can help earn the title, Home of the Brave.