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In the Chicago area and looking for something unusual and free to do this Friday night?

If so, head on over to the gorgeously-restored Chicago Cultural Center at 7 p.m. and join us for a unique and, if I may say so, important event that I'm honored to be able to facilitate.

In the great tradition of past cultures, where warriors returned from battle embraced by their community as they shared their experiences and divided the pain of loss together, I'm asking caring community members to come out and support this small group of NIU veterans who have agreed to share their stories with us for one evening.

They are not professional speakers. They are not veterans who have returned and made their views and opinions known broadly by blogging or writing books or being interviewed on TV. But they are no less in need of our support as they come forward.

Details below the fold...

Renaissance by Fire: Returning Veterans, Society & the Forging of a New Enlightenment.

Date: Friday, February 13, 2009
Time: 7:00pm - 10:00pm
Location: Studio Theater, Chicago Cultural Center
78 E. Washington, Chicago, IL


A discussion examining how combat veterans are leading us to a stronger awareness and consciousness of the pervasive themes (conflict, love, loss, honor, violence, etc.) that envelop society and its veterans alike.

A program on the eve of the first anniversary of the Northern Illinois University school shooting.



The exchange will be led by Ilona Meagher, author of Moving a Nation to Care: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and America’s Returning Troops and recipient of NIU’s 2008 Illinois Journalist of the Year Student Scholarship Award. Ilona's special guests include:

  • NIU Veterans Club members in audience and on panel
  • Anna Stevens, current NIU grad student and Vet Club Secretary, former Naval officer.
  • J.D. Kammes, current NIU student and Vet Club member, former Kosovo and Iraq veteran.
  • Jeff Merkel, former NIU student and Navy combat medic/Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq vet.
  • Bruce Jacobsen, NIU alum and Vietnam-era vet, VietNow Director and Legislative Rep - Rockford.



This event will not be a discussion on war, per se.

Rather, the aim of this program is to explore issues that all of humanity grapple with, themes that revolve around dealing with the complexity and dichotomy of life, the search for meaning and purpose and satisfaction in life, etc. All veterans, even those who do not directly serve in combat, hone certain skills due to their sacrifice of time and work as part of a larger and more powerful entity.

Those sent to combat, are forced to deal with these universal themes in a more direct way.

Because of this, they have knowledge that they can provide the rest of civilian society. While veterans during deployment and during their return to society need the social supports of those on the home front, civilians often forget what veterans can provide them in return.

This event aims to examine those issues in a dynamic, inclusive discussion format.

Discussion flow

I’m planning to divide our discussion time into four sections where we’ll bounce around:

--- Funny stories/reflections on military life, including how civilians are different than military-types
--- The bonds (love/brother-sisterhood) shared by military members, including positive aspects (honor/heroism) of combat or of serving as one among many toward a purpose higher than self
--- The existential/spiritual challenges that veterans face when trying to resolve the difficult things they see and do during combat, what is learned about life in the process, and how meaning is forged (or not forged) as a result
--- What civilians should know about veterans, what they can do to best welcome them home into their communities



Facebook event page:

More on the Vet Art Project:

A listing of all VAP events in February [pdf]:

More on the intimate and gorgeous space that is the landmark Chicago Cultural Center:

Directions to the Chicago Cultural Center:

Ilona's bio:



"It is important not only that the veteran tells his story but that he experiences it as being heard. Today, we tend not to think of people as living in tribes. But we all need a sense of belonging to a tightly knit community in which we have significant relations that matter to and help uphold us all. Having one’s story validated is a critical step in the transformation of identity into warriorhood and mature adult status. The public platform is necessary for the story to get passed on and become part of the community’s collective wisdom and mythic history." -- Dr. Edward Tick, author of War and the Soul

Dr. Tick is credited with being the inspiration for the Vet Art Project.

VAP creator and leader Lisa Rosenthal has stated that after reading War and the Soul, she was moved to take the journey she is on to help forge ties between veterans and the society they serve. The Vet Art Project is also inspired by the following quote used by Lisa in all of her materials:

"Veterans are the light at the tip of the candle, illuminating the way for the whole nation. If veterans can achieve awareness, transformation, understanding, and peace, they can share with the rest of society the realities of war. And they can teach us how to make peace with ourselves and each other, so we never have to use violence to resolve conflicts again." -- Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh

Originally posted to Ilona's Ramblings on Wed Feb 11, 2009 at 08:44 AM PST.

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