Some of you might remember Gilbert as the veteran in the wheelchair that always wanted to attend River House events, be they hikes or paddles. We got the other vets to push his chair over roots and through gravel on the trails, and muscled his chair down to the lakeside to lift him into a canoe. He loved being in the natural world and we made it happen for him.
Well Gilbert has made a remarkable recovery after being confided to a chair for 10 years as well as struggling with pain. He attended some intense, alternative pain release therapy and is now WALKING on his own! I don’t want to give too much away as Gilbert is one of the stars in my upcoming book, Walking Toward Peace- Veterans Healing on America’s Trails, which will be released April 2021, but I do want to celebrate Gilbert here for another reason.
Since all events were cancelled with the Lebanon VA, who Gilbert normally attended River House events with, we could not hold hikes and campfire dinners for the whole of 2020. This was making Gilbert very unhappy, for he needed his time in not only nature, but with his fellow veterans. He approached me and asked if we could do a private hike with the PTSD group that he is a member of. Gilbert reached out to all the vets, invited their spouses and their children and together, we hosted two very successful outings in the last few months.
Gilbert wasn’t sure at first that he could be a good leader and talk his fellow vets into coming out, as this group as a whole often has trust issues, especially when dealing with folks who are not in their military family, as most of us at River House are not. But Gilbert was hugely successful and managed to not only get a nice group out but they all had a great time as well! As usual, board member, Tim Minnich made the group delicious food like Louisiana gumbo.
Todd and I went to New Mexico to hike for a month during the beautiful fall season and Gilbert was wishing he could have another scheduled hike. “You can do this yourself,” I encouraged him. “They all know you and trust you (there are about 20-25 members in the PTSD group). Do a pot luck or have them all bring a sandwich for a picnic if you all want to share a meal afterwards. YOU are the glue that holds that group together, Gilbert” and he glowed with satisfaction and pride, knowing how he was helping his fellow veterans and himself at the same time.
So today on Veteran’s Day, I celebrate Gilbert, who had the courage to not only seek alternative therapy for himself, but created a way to get himself and his fellow struggling vets out into nature, even during a pandemic.