The journey to the battlefront is a long one. It starts at home and usually ends at home. It is the neverending universal ritual of a mother letting go to send her child off to war and the same mother welcoming a new, changed, person back.
She understands what it is like to imagine late at night the sound a car pulling up, footsteps shuffling up the steps, and the knock on the door. She is the one who helps the war-weary son put himself back together and once again become part of the community.
She won’t be spared her daughter’s PTSD — or even suicide.
Although my son left for the Middle East during a dangerous period, he was not in the military, he was in the U.S. Diplomatic Corps. He stayed six years and spent part of that time in northern Afghanistan.
During those years, I never knew a day without worry. I reached out to other mothers. I wanted to share my own experience, but I also wanted to hear their stories. I was teaching literature at the time at a local college and came across Virgil’s Aeneid, which tells the story of Euraylus, a young soldier who dies in the Trojan War. Hearing the news, his mother rushes to his camp, wailing. She is loud and inconsolable until forcibly removed and returned home lest her lament affect the morale of the troops listening on the other side of the wall.
What drew me to this story is how little we hear that woman’s voice even today and how easily that voice can be silenced. Out of my own experience and a growing awareness that there were at least a million mothers in our country dealing with the consequences of war and its effects on their families, the Warmamas project was born.
Now there was a place where mothers could tell their stories in their own words, in their own voices.
We interviewed one of our first mothers in a park by Biscayne Bay, a noisy place full of children’s voices and frequent sounds of airplanes overhead. A veteran herself, she talked about the loneliness she felt when her son deployed and the eventual support she found in the most unlikely of places, her gym. Another mother talked about a phone call her son made from Iraq when, suddenly, as they spoke, there was a missile attack. She waited for days to hear from him again.
In 2014 and 2015, Warmamas collaborated with StoryCorps, as part of its Military Voices Initiative. Both events took place at the University of Miami culminating in the StoryCorps/Warmamas Community Archive where all interviews are archived and available for academic research. This week, the Warmamas project takes the stage, in a dance performance inspired by mothers’ stories.
We live in turbulent times when the unspeakable realities of war get lost in the rush to war, when families’ sacrifices are forgotten and mothers’ voices are rarely heard. My work has been about undoing that silence by documenting and preserving each story told to me by a mother. This one small story becomes many stories and I believe that if we listen closely, the larger and more brutal story of war emerges.
Patricia Figueroa Sowers, of Miami, is the founder of Warmamas.
The Karen Peterson and Dancers physically integrated company, in collaboration with video artist Maria Lino, having its world premiere May 4 and 5 at Wynwood’s The Light Box. For more information on the performance visit www.karenpetersondancers.org. For more information on the Warmamas project visit www.Warmamas.com.
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