Monday, November 24, 2014

World Turkey Domination by Matt F.

By Army Captain Matt F. following his second visit to the Valhalla Project
(Originally written in August, 2014)

Though the summer days have been long and hot, I have returned to my people as I had sworn so many months before.  As they gather around me, curious and hopeful, I solemnly raise my walking staff to the heavens and say unto them, “gobblegobblegobble!”

“Gobblegobblegobble!” they respond, as is customary among us.  Tears of joy well up.  I am home.

This is my second time visiting Valhalla.  Last Memorial Day weekend I came face to face with my aversion for poultry and came away the richer for it.  The ducks, the chickens and, yes, the turkeys especially, have found a place in my heart that was badly in need of softening. 

As we fell into ancient rhythms practiced by farmers as far back as Cain and his naturally selected brother Abel, I realized how much I had been missing a life of connection.  The first thing that happens to a warrior when they take a life is that they immediately lose their sense of belonging to life itself.  Maybe the
brain does this to preserve sanity or maybe it is a result of a moral injury.  I’m not really sure about all that, but I can attest to the fact that I have tended to isolate myself over the intervening years since my first tour of Iraq.  First from friends, then family.  I even cut myself off from the men with whom I shared those unique experiences, the only ones who really get it.  In conversations with my former comrades I have discovered that I’m not alone; in fact, almost every one of them has felt the same way.  Disconnected, estranged, different, isolated from humanity and utterly alone.

 I think this is why life at Valhalla is so effective at restoring war-weary veterans.  The simple act of feeding another living creature that is totally dependent upon you begins a series of cumulative connections.  It becomes easier, upon feeling that almost gravitational pull toward the light, to graduate from feeding poultry to shaking a stranger’s hand.  And before long, you can shake that stranger’s hand without worrying about them being a potential jihadist whom you will need to summarily dispatch should they shout “Alluah Ackbar!”  Don’t judge me.  How was I supposed to know that the guy behind me in the Wal-Mart checkout line wasn’t wearing a suicide vest?  Terrorists would absolutely wear a Duck Dynasty shirt to blend in.  That’s in their charter.

You can probably tell that another common complaint among the habitual visitors to Valhalla would be difficulty concentrating.  Our brains run ninety-to-nothing, as my grandma says, and we are often prone to (SQUIRREL!!) distractions.  This is another reason why Valhalla has such appeal.  Life is simple.  The only sound you hear when you step out on the porch are hundreds of crickets engaged in various stages of coitus.  At least until the turkeys find them a put the kibbitz on such shenanigans.  Chris and Gordon don’t bother us with questions about the past.  We speak of simple things, laugh frequently at each other’s foibles or simply work side-by-side in silence.  However, should we have something to say, they are quick to listen without a word of condemnation.   This not only allows us the time to process difficult memories, but it builds trust.

Another thing that I find wonderful about visiting the farm is the food.  I never feel hungry even though I eat a third of my normal calorie intake.   Our hosts feed us well thrice daily on nutrient dense food, much of which comes directly from their own labor, whether it’s homegrown vegetables, homemade cheeses from raw milk or animals who have given the last full measure of devotion.   I say that tongue in cheek, with only the greatest respect to the fallen soldiers Abraham Lincoln referenced in that quote, but also with the thought of the animal’s sacrifice in mind.  I can remember reading an actual newspaper classified ad in which someone chided people who eat what they kill saying, “they should get their meat from the grocery store instead where no animals were harmed.”  While I understand the vegan point of view that death is offensive no matter which life form experiences it, I believe that they miss the deeper meaning:  all life is sustained only through sacrifice of other life.  If not meat, then eggs; if not eggs, then plants which (last time I read my biology book) are quite alive.  This is a difficult concept to wrestle with so most people blithely ignore it and tune in to the latest Kardashian doings.  Combat soldiers wrestle with this moral dilemma constantly, most especially those who survive a situation in which their friends or comrades perished.  We find it difficult to accept the fact that we are still alive when others fell.  We resent it deeply and often engage in risky endeavors after the fact to give Death another go at it, hoping this time he can shoot straight.  The concept of sacrifice is great when it’s our own lives, but we find it heartbreaking and, most of all, humbling when the gift comes from someone else.

So when Gordon said that part of our activities would be the systematic slaughter of a half dozen turkeys and one hen with a Paris Hilton complex, I felt my stomach sink.  The smell of blood takes me back to places I don’t want to go, and I would rather bring hell to my enemy than harm to an animal.  Nevertheless, I felt that it was important to take part in the event.  Important to make myself witness the fulfillment of purpose and remain in the moment, even as it made me uncomfortable, to honor the life that would sustain us.  The act itself was over quickly, painlessly.  I thanked the turkey in the privacy of my own thoughts, strange though that may sound.  As we began to process the bird I reflected on that connection I felt again to the rhythms of a simpler time; birth, growth, life, death all played out again and again in the microcosms of a chicken, goat or turkey experience.  Something that we could see happening in front of us that we could extrapolate to our own long-lived (hopefully) lives.  It left me with a sense of hope that, if the lowly turkey has his purpose, perhaps I do as well.

* * *
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We need YOUR help to keep Valhalla functioning efficiently - while at the same time expanding vitally important programs to assist post-9/11 combat veterans and war zone civilian workers to transition back into the civilian world. 

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Nobody, including cadre or board members, draws a paycheck here, nor will they ever: 
we simply give everything we have to make Valhalla possible. 

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