On Tuesday, May 29, at the David Rubenstein Atrium, the community resource program Wurzweiler's Care Café, in partnership with veterans' advocacy group The Telling Project and the Lincoln Center Veterans Initiative, presents Telling Care Café: Veterans' Journeys Home, an evening of storytelling and discussion that explores what it means to come home after military service. In advance of the event, we asked Telling Project founder Jonathan Wei and two of the evening's participants—Nikia Leslie and Robert Timmins—to share their thoughts about the program.
Jonathan Wei: The U.S. military is the most powerful human institution that has ever existed. It is a force for order, or for chaos. For peace, or violence. Destruction or protection. Dualities. Another duality: the U.S. military is the executor of the will of the people of the U.S. Will and execution. Intention and action.
Since 2007, The Telling Project has worked with veterans and military families to support them in performing their own stories of life and the military for their communities—live and in person. In this work, The Telling Project acknowledges and explores these dualities, and works to bring them closer to one another; works to acknowledge intention and action, and to create a third space for reflection. This third space both embraces and moves beyond the duality of civilian and military and into a unified space of citizenship, a space where military and civilian together address questions important to us all. What is our intent? What are our actions? Do they align with one another? What are we doing right? How can we be better?
Shakespeare said that art is a mirror held up to nature. In this work, it is our own nature that we have the opportunity to see: civilian, military, and citizen.
Nikia Leslie: I’m a Navy veteran and spouse to an Active Duty member. I remain very active in my community for our military families here at Ft. Hamilton Army Base. When I was approached by someone from Blue Star Families about participating in this project, I think the main idea that drew me in is that I’ve really never talked about my whole experience of being in the military—only bits and pieces to folks. For the most part my life carried on after the military, so I don't speak much about it. I was excited to walk down memory lane about what changed a young, inner-city girl to the polished, well-traveled woman I am today. I believe the military gave me a great foundation to continue to grow, and I believe I have done just that.
What I hope to take away from this experience and to share with the audience is to acknowledge that everything that I went through was for the betterment of my family, my country, and, most of all, myself. Some people feel that the military only represents war and suffering; I want to show that the military provides an opportunity for some people to live their best lives. My story is not all rosy, but I chose to make the best out of what God had in store for me.
Robert Timmins: Last month I completed 17 years of military service, which included combat duty as an Infantryman with the 101st Airborne Division in Operation Iraqi Freedom from 2003 to 2004. I’m currently the Veteran Support Services Coordinator for New York City College of Technology, and I was introduced to The Telling Project by a friend and fellow veteran advocate named Joe Bello. I thought it sounded interesting, so I checked out the website and viewed the videos of past Telling Project performances. It was great to see other veterans share their stories, and to have the opportunity to do so candidly in front of an audience. It reminded me of one of my favorite National Public Radio programs, The Moth Radio Hour, but with a veteran-centric theme.
The Telling Project has been thus far a way to help me reflect on how the experience of military service—and life afterward—has shaped who I am today. Through the medium of storytelling, I can share what would normally be introspection with an audience that might not be as familiar with the military and veteran experience. If this helps bridge the military/veteran/civilian divide even a little bit, I would be grateful.
Eileen Willis is Editorial Director at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.
Wurzweiler's Care Café series is a free, traveling, psycho-educational community resource program, which support individuals and families seeking help and information around issues of concern. Through presentations on a variety of topics, Care Café aims to educate, motivate, empower, and nurture hope around pressing psychosocial challenges and solutions.
The Telling Project is a national performing arts nonprofit founded by Jonathan Wei in 2008 that employs theater to deepen our understanding of the military and our veterans' experiences. Understanding fosters receptivity, easing veterans' transition back to civil society, allowing communities to benefit from the skills and experience they bring with them. The Telling Project has produced over 60 original productions, putting over 300 veterans on stages across the United States.
Lincoln Center's Veterans Initiative has served more than 4,000 veterans and their families, and has partnerships with crucial organizations such as the Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans of America, Veterans Artist Program, The Mission Continues, the USO, and American Forces Network, the main source of entertainment and news for troops and their families stationed overseas.