The journey of learning for me has been more of a maze than a path and has been so full that I can hardly believe the fellowship is already at the six month mark. After receiving news of the fellowship I met with another fellow from a previous co-hurt to get some advice. She suggested I take some time for respite and reflection on what I really want to do and how the investment into me can sustain my leadership for the next twenty years.
It was her words of wisdom that really helped me to design my fellowship program and determine what I needed. I decided to get the thing done that I had most dreaded doing. I finished my BA. The fellowship was just the push and motivation I needed.
Once I completed my undergrad, I hired an executive coach to both help me determine my best path but, to also hold me accountable to my own goals and desires. This has been perhaps the wisest choice to date as she has really been a tremendous guide for me.
I sought out some leadership seminars and conferences that I’d wanted to attend and which felt right. They were everything from personal goal setting to how to lead others to healing. All the conferences had dynamic and amazing facilitators and discussions. In hindsight, I wouldn’t have done so many in such a short period of time as I find myself still months later processing all I’ve learned. But, the timing of the offerings was such that I just went with them.
One of my planned trips as part of my fellowship was a trip to South Africa for the International healing of Memories conference. The experience and trip was so profound that my life will forever be changed. The conference brought together 60 people from 19 different countries around trauma and healing. What happened at the conference is something that I could not have planned for nor that was planned but instead organically occurred.
I was confronted by a woman from Namibia who had experienced incredible trauma due to war at the hands of soldiers. Having been a soldier myself, I represented the evil she knew in the world.
“How many people have you killed?” Her question both innocent and accusing was weighted with anger and hurt.
I knew I had just a moment to answer her piecing question. I took a deep breath trying to bring oxygen and restraint back to my veins. I could see the anger in her deep black eyes. I knew she had waited a lifetime to ask such a question. A lifetime that knew war and its horror first hand. I knew her story and all she knew of mine was that I was one of them. Namibia had experienced the horrors of war. In the moment of her question, we were standing in a field outside of a quaint conference center in the beauty of South Africa. Her question deserved an answer, her pain deserved healing. My mind raced, searching for the words to the question I had dodged since leaving the military.
“Hundreds’, maybe thousands, I really have no idea how many I’ve killed.” The sense of relief of confessing my guilt freeing both my mind and my soul. I instantly felt lighter and words just kept coming. “If you’re asking me if I ever looked down the barrel of my rifle and took another life the answer is No. But, I trained many warriors, and sent many warriors to war and they took many lives. I am responsible for each life they took. My eyes filled with tears and my words chocked. I took another gasping breath. “I sent many to war who also died. I’m responsible for all of them.”
I saw her jaw flex just a little as I waited and braced myself for what might come. I both felt relief of my confession and prepared for the punishment of my confession.
Her mouth opened slightly as I readied myself for insults, that never came. Instead I sensed a deep change in her that I couldn’t have been predicted. Her black face softened and her dark eyes lightened as though the sun was coming out after a long period of darkness. She smiled as her hands reached out to pull me into her soft body. Namibia embraced me our tears rain into each other’s creating a river that nourished both of us.
I couldn’t have predicted the outcome of the journey or how my life has changed because of the fellowship. I feel like I have a fresh start on my professional life as well as a renewed energy from shedding the weight of guilt and cutting loose the things that have held me back. I can look forward to what is on the horizon and the journey ahead.