Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Just Listen

February 10, 2012 by  
Filed under Bras & Boots, Most Recent Posts

Saturday, January 16th, I attended a memorial service for my friend, Captain Mariah Kochavi.

I hesitate to use the term “friend”, because I am not sure I knew her well enough to claim that title. However, I think Mariah is probably comfortable with it, and considering that she gave me something of considerable value, no other term seems quite appropriate.

Mariah was a veterinarian in the United States Army before suffering a severe brain injury in the summer of 2008. I met her through Team River Runner, the non-profit group that brought kayaking to Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where it is now an adaptive-sports component of wounded warrior rehabilitation. Mariah’s struggle to overcome the unrelenting challenges of brain injury ended on December 24th.

I was reluctant to attend the memorial service. I had just returned home after ten days of traveling for funerals and memorial services of fellow warriors who had fallen in Afghanistan, and I was anxious to return to less solemn endeavors. Because Mariah is a Quaker, I was also concerned about how I, and her other military friends, would be received. The only other Quakers I have met were protesting the war in front of the main gate of Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune (they behaved more civilly than any other group of protesters I have seen). Mariah, of course, had one of the very few positions in the armed forces that can be held by conscientious objectors – Veterinarian.

Although reluctant, I decided to “proceed as the way opened”, and arrived at the Sidwell Friends School, in Bethesda, on Saturday afternoon. Although I was early, all the parking spaces were filled, so I parked some distance away, in the yard – more like a field – adjoining the school. As I dodged mud puddles on my walk to the school, I took in all the sights and sounds around me (an involuntary legacy of traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder). At the far end of the yard, in the tallest tree around, a crow was calling. It called about every twenty seconds, creating a rhythm.

Suddenly the words “Just listen” came to me, and I stopped in mid-stride…

At one of the kayak sessions conducted by Team River Runner at Walter Reed, I had found Mariah watching from the side of the pool, apparently despondent. Pain and fatigue had forced her to sit-out the session. I knew I should attempt to encourage her, but our previous conversations had been limited to an exchange of greetings. Kayaking and brain injury were the two things I knew we had in common, so I tried to engage her on those. Mariah did not respond, so I was not sure if my attempt was welcome, or if she was really there (I thought she might have “zoned out”).

I changed topics, and related my experience with Ride-Well, a therapeutic riding program at Rock Creek Park. I told her I had been partnered with Jackson, a horse that did not like to be touched – especially by men – but allowed me to groom him with no resistance. Keeping up the banter, and not expecting a response, I said “As a Veterinarian, I guess you probably know the reason for that, but I wish Jackson could tell me.” And at that, Mariah turned toward me, and with an earnestness best appreciated by another brain-injury survivor, said… “Just listen.”

Mariah had been there all along, completely engaged, but just too tired to talk.

That was what Mariah gave me. A lesson, an observation, a premonition — I don’t know how to characterize it, but I know it is valuable.

Not long after that, I listened to Jackson as intently as I could, and learned why he trusted me. It was because we shared a common hyper-alertness to our environment – Jackson, because horses are “prey animals” and he had been abused; and I, because of brain injury and post-traumatic stress. Consequently, we both were suspicious of anything that moved, made a noise, or just seemed out of place, until we investigated and verified it was not a threat.

I am not an “animal person”. Mariah is an animal person, and I have other friends who are. Some of them are Native Americans that I spent time with in Washington state. They related to me a cultural belief that when a crow calls out, creating a rhythm like that crow on Saturday afternoon, it is announcing that someone’s spirit has just traversed the path from physical death to eternal spiritual life.

I attended the memorial service, and remained for a while at the reception that followed – and discovered that religious and philosophical differences did not impede the courtesy, respect, and friendship that was afforded to Mariah’s military friends. I also discovered why I was there: I told a few people about the crow and what it might mean, and they seemed comforted by it.

When I left the reception hall, dodging mud puddles as I walked to my car, I looked for the crow, but it was gone. It did not need to be there, it did not need to call out anymore — I had already listened.

Thank you, Mariah >

Comments

2 Responses to “Just Listen”
  1. Elena Mastroianni says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. It made me stop and think and be thankful to those brave individuals who lead the way, show us the way, and provide comfort to all who meet them.

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