The last time I wrote about veterans recovering from war-related injuries, I didn’t do so well.
Sitting at tables in the golf-course clubhouse on Kent Island, Md., looking out over the water, I tiptoed around the questions.
How do you ask a man where his arm is? What happened?
I was afraid of imposing, making the situation worse with my questions.
I don’t remember much about the story that ran; no one complained, but I knew that it could have – should have – been better. I wished I’d been bolder, but I still didn’t know how to pick my words.
That was three years ago.
In September, reading through a book-compilation of several of Gene Weingarten’s longer pieces, he talked about his own experience; and I was comforted that a writer so many times more gifted, experienced and skilled than I am could also struggle to find the way to ask the questions.
But he wrote of watching a friend walk directly up to a young man in a wheelchair, sit down, and ask for his story; and watching stories pour out.
I put down the book then and thought about my Kent Island failure and thought hey, it’s worth a try. People mostly want to tell their stories, so just ask.
I had a chance to try again this week.
I thought about it ahead of time: how I would ask about the immediate first (the story was about a couple of area groups helping him fix his vehicle), then ask about his story.
But before I could ask, he was talking, telling me about surgeries, recoveries, lasting effects. Details followed on details. He couldn’t say exactly what happened, but he said enough.
We spoke on the phone that morning, and when we met later that afternoon, he again started telling his story without being asked.
It was a story that was begging to be told.
Driving home, I wished I could go back to that Kent Island clubhouse, pull up a chair to one of the round tables.
“There are people at home who need to hear,” I would say. “Would you tell them who you are? Tell them your story?”