This number haunts the military siblings and the extended military families who have tried to help but just couldn’t reach everyone in time. How can one help stem such a tide? How can one make others aware? With the push-up being the universal tool used to “grab the attention” of military personnel in training to make them aware of changes that need to be made in a direction of training or performance, an idea was born to use this tool that all military people understand to spread the word of the need within the family and to make this need known throughout the national community as well. 22 veterans are taking their lives every day, and we need to know that fact and pay attention to our family members who have borne the battle or have stood ready to do so.
Will doing 22 push-ups a day for 22 days stop veteran suicides? No. What good, then can engaging in such an exercise be? It can remind those of us who care to pay closer attention today along our daily journeys. The downcast stranger we see, may be a sister or brother who has served and needs a word of encouragement. The “individual” who gives us an obscene gesture in the middle of traffic craziness, may be our neighbor who is grappling with experiences too difficult to comprehend and is on the verge of exploding in the one area they seem to have control – driving a vehicle – and a perceived slight has taken that away. We can yield the right of way, bow in deference and offer kindness and forgiveness rather than return the contemptuous “salute” towards someone whose pain we just couldn’t understand. We can take the time to call that friend who’s been on our mind all week for some reason, taking into account that the “nagging impulse” we have to reach out may be a divine nudge to help a friend who doesn’t have enough strength to cry for help.
22 – A day. The number should also keep us riveted to the sides of those closest to us who carry to indelible scars of the battle. For me, that person is my father. The example set for me was best demonstrated by my mother. Upon Dad’s return from his first tour in Vietnam, he showed signs of what we now call PTSD. We weren’t aware of it by name and I was just entering a phase where I was becoming acquainted with Dad in a truly cognitive way. Because he was so tired, Ma made sure that we all allowed him to sleep as much as he wanted. One family member, not familiar with Dad’s sensitivity to being suddenly awakened, attempted to rouse Dad for a meal. It was not a good experience. Not accustomed to being in a non-combat environment, Dad reacted instinctively and violently as he would have a few days earlier in a combat zone. Outside of his profession, my father has never been a man given to violence and the incident shook our family up to no small degree.
My mother could have had many reactions at that point including distancing herself from Dad. Instead, she did something that I now know was counter-intuitive and very courageous. She laid down beside Dad after he had done the most violent thing any of us had ever witnessed and told him to go back to sleep. She continued to embrace him as he dealt with his adjustments and in time, even after other combat deployments, he successfully learned to manage his inner turmoil. Now, he deals with the ravages of a demanding profession that broke down his body and dampened his mind. Yet, he remains with us and it remains my solemn duty to make sure he knows we remain with him.
For that reason, I am doing the 22. 22 push-ups for 22 days to remind me that at least 22 brothers and sisters a day will take their own lives as they grapple with physical pain and inner turmoil for having borne the battle for the rest of us. I push on, hoping that by reminding myself of the needs around me, that maybe today – even if only for today – my words and deeds might allow my 22 to be the only time today that number is reached for any significant reason. So I press on. 22 push-ups a day for 22 days to remind me to do my duty as my siblings' keeper.
With love and concern, from a brother who cares,