Before you read Jacob and Tracer’s story below, let me set the stage for this blog and blogs going forward.
Do it now; sometimes later becomes never – Unknown. A good quote, though I believe a friend’s social media post said it better when he shared a picture of a service dog lying near a casket. No longer did this canine have someone to serve. Reach out, ask, get involved, listen, my friend pleaded.
Another dear soul had found his pain mightier than his exhausted strength to live in the pain. Suicide. PTSD once again a thief of hope, and of life. I was already aware that PTSD is a thief for twenty-two military veterans per day. The more I watch and listen, I learn that twenty-two is an understated number. And, this number does not consider men and woman in uniform such as law enforcement, paramedics, or fire fighters.
This has led me to my next steps with the book, Hope Has a Cold Nose. At the right time, I know this book will happen; I will continue until it does! Until then, I don’t want later to become never for someone who could benefit from the extraordinary stories I have had the honor of writing. And the stories I intend to write.
I am grateful to Jacob and Tracer for many reasons. Jacob gave me one of the most sacred gifts someone can give another – he trusted me with his story. And because he did, I was led to a desire to utilize my listening and writing skills to help military veterans like Jacob achieve their next mission.
Jacob and others who have so graciously shared their stories with me have an inherent desire to continue to serve. To lay down one’s life for others is a life-time oath. Military veterans are no longer living out their vows deployed in a war zone; now they live this vow as civilians who do not want to see their armed forces brothers and sisters lose their lives now that they, too, are civilians. An urgent call to duty is that twenty-two more brave men and women do not die today – and twenty-two do not die again tomorrow or the day after and the day after that – because they have reached the point where despair and hopeless win.
Jacob found hope in the form of a soul in a fur coat. When Jacob, a veteran of the U.S. Navy who served in Afghanistan, met Tracer, the will to live became far greater than the certainty that death was the only option that would end suffering. For both Jacob and for Tracer. Tracer was rescued from a shelter, just as Jacob was rescued from his imprisoned pain. For Jacob (and military veterans experiencing PTSD), hope had been slipping away through the regime of medications, out of reach in the nightmares and day terrors, and elusive from traditional forms of therapy. As hope slipped away, so to was Jacob’s family and friends. Until Tracer. Jacob and Tracer, and other veterans who have shared their stories with me, discovered that life worth living again is not just an option. It is a certainty.
My idea of Hope Has a Cold Nose began developing not for fame of the storytellers. It began developing with the intent that the stories shared would reach those whose are struggling to find the strength to keep going. And that it would reach readers who could increase their awareness and learn how they might be able to support those struggling with PTSD. As I continue the focus on turning Hope Has a Cold Nose into a final manuscript, I hear Do it now; sometimes later becomes never and I see my friend’s FB post Reach out, ask, get involved, listen.
As Maya Angelou writes When we cast our bread upon the waters, we can presume that someone downstream whose face we will never know will benefit from our action, as we who are downstream from another will profit from that grantor’s gift. I cannot predict whose story of hope and dignity will inspire someone else, yet I do know that shared stories do. And that I can get involved by reaching out, listening, writing, and sharing those stories.
I am passionate about the strength and beauty of the human spirit to find hope and purpose when deeply tested by painful and traumatic events. I am also passionate about the holistic healing power of canines to help people on their journeys to reclaiming self-dignity and hope. That being said, if someone has found hope again through equestrian therapy or fly-fishing or any holistic healing methodology, I welcome the opportunity to blog those stories as well. If you know of someone who has found healing and hope on their walk with PTSD, please have them contact me through either of my web pages.
Tell the story of the mountain you climbed. Your words could become a page in someone else’s survival guide. – Morgan Harper Nichols.
It is my honor to introduce you to:
JACOB and TRACER
“In racing, they say that your car goes where your eyes go. The driver who cannot tear his eyes away from the wall as he spins out of control will meet that wall; the driver who looks down the track as he feels his tires break free will regain control of his vehicle.”
― Garth Stein, The Art of Racing in the Rain
His war and my war different, yet both of us experienced the same. Both of us have known loss and inescapable pain. He may not have held a hand of a comrade taking his last breath. Yet he knew the feeling of a shield starting to cover his heart when a cage his bed. He may not have longed for silence when the spray of ammo was deafening. He knew the pain of silence when his neighbors stopped their lonely howls for sleep. We both knew the struggle to close our eyes for fear of memories; both of us with images that reinforced we weren’t “good for anything”. On one level, I knew I was fulfilling my sacred oath to serve and protect; yet on another, I felt I was failing for each heart beat that would never resurrect. On one level, his purpose to love unconditionally would not let him lose the faith; yet on another, not being wanted was eroding his spirit away.
Voices he couldn’t shake screamed “NO!”, “Bad!”, and ultimately “We surrender him to you; good ridden he is yours!”. Voices I couldn’t shake yelled “Help me, please”, “Don’t let me die”, “Tell my family I bravely fought the war.” His way of speaking is through his body in its wiggles and shakes; the more to be happy about, the more movement he makes. As words sharper than a knife snapped his heart in two, his eyes grew dim and his body subdued. I had once spoke a voice so charismatically; surrounded by family and friends once my top joy and priority. As one life, then two, then…turn off, oh God, please, that off button let me find. I, too, grew dim, so very dim inside.
Before our souls would find each other, before hope would nudge us both, I needed to partner with despair upon returning home. What right did I have to be alive? or “in this chair, in this room, is the only safe place for me; these the type of messages in my mind’s relentless repeat. The power of three G’s my armor laying across my chest – grief, guilt, and gutless trying to steal my breath. Death had rubbed against me over and over – during deployment it just wouldn’t leave. It had shown me it placed no value on good people – a dirty rotten thief! I was no longer at war, but I was at war every day. Emotions once buried threatening to no longer stay at bay. Those hands I held or wished I could have had they still been attached now keep reaching out when I try to sleep. Okay buddies, cheers to you, this fifth of Absolute is on the house courtesy of me. Down the hatch, one, two, three. Another bottle, another day, oh, sweet oblivion thanks you for your mercy. And, yes Doc, I don’t mind if I do. Pile on the prescriptions – twenty-five feels too few.
Before we were meant to join as one, guardian angels were sent our way. They were the orchestrators as our beacons of faith. Mine was called Teresa and his was a right arm extension of an Earth angel whose calling was shelter dog rescuing. Both were determined they would not give up on him nor me. One step at a time, but steps forward none-the-less. Step one for me, no more drink; Step one for him, another veteran and a planned meet and greet. Step two for me an application acceptance to be partnered with a service dog. Step two for him, a veteran cancellation with one phone call. Step three for me, a six-month waiting period shortened to eight weeks. Step three for him, a veteran named Jacob he was about to meet.
Hello Tracer, I am Jacob. What do you say – shall we give this a try?
Hello Jacob. I am Tracer. And just so you know – I will never leave your side.
I had already been blessed with two gifts to make my life complete. My son Tommy and my daughter Ava, two additional angels inspiring me. Now I have a third gift, a third child to make me whole. Tracer and I inseparable for ninety-nine percent of where I go. Tracer gave me my life back not just once, but twice. Truth be told, he has probably given me many lives back each time he comforts me in the night. He gave me a lifeline the day he and I became a cohesive team. He also was the catalyst for paths intersecting. A dog trainer kindly told me I had a wealth of knowledge that needed to be shared and not kept under lock and key; becoming a leader of a youth organization called the Sea Cadets would become my destiny.
Slowly, steadily, with the softest black fur held tightly in my grip or I held tightly in his; the prescriptions continue to decrease their grip. With a wisdom and an encouragement that he speaks volumes through his eyes, I continue to step forward with my arms open to life. Memories still knock in a menacing way and I’m certain they won’t disappear. Actually, I hope they don’t fade completely for it is important my fellow comrades I keep near. For each youth cadet I help, I am giving purpose to a fellow soldier whose time on Earth was through. Goodness is payed forward in the community a cadet serves, and in the self-confidence, he builds too. It is a slow healing process, and I know I can’t erase what deployment revealed about a dark side of life. But with Tracer by my side, I can listen closely when I close my eyes. I take a deep breath, and I hear my comrades say “thank you for making it matter in how you are fighting for me; because you bravely chose hope you are a beacon of light for others in need. We know it is hard to keep going but you are doing exactly what we need you to do; the enemy doesn’t win because of the courage you choose”.
I am not a hero; medals go to Tracer, to my children, to my wife. Medals go to men I proudly served with side by side. Medals go to those who save lives like Tracer’s and who teach others like Tracer to save lives like mine. Medals go to my friends who found it too hard when they came back to stay alive. Medals go to the sea cadets who give me the honor to believe I am teaching them when, in reality, they are teaching me. Medals go to my friends who also journey with PTSD. Medals go to four-legged souls who also fight to survive, trust that the one they are meant to unconditionally love they will soon find.
I made many a wish upon a star the nights I was deployed. Like Please, oh please stop the noise. Our prayers get answered but not always in the way we are thinking when we reverently beg and plea. A perfect example is the way that the gift of silence came to me. Beside me speaking all the time, through a silent voice of the most incredible love is a four-legged soul in answer to my prayer sent to me from above. I have known what it means to give your all to your team, to give your heart and your soul. It is an entire new level of team with Tracer who makes me whole.
Well, Tracer, my boy, what do you say?
I think you have done well diverting your eyes away?
Diverting my eyes? What do you mean?
You kept your eyes on the track and let your tires break free. We are a pretty good team, aren’t we? You and me. Oh, and one more thing. By your side, I will never leave.