The second flap was the hardest. Veterans proud of our toughness, we decided not to leave the sweat lodge after the first flap to cool down in the humid July air of Delaware. During the first flap our leader, whose grandfather was from the Mi’kmaq tribe in Canada, bid us invite into the lodge the spirits of loved ones, living or dead. Several of us invited buddies who had fallen in Vietnam. I invited my father, now passed on, who had survived two Japanese torpedoes in his war. We felt the presence of these invited vets, and the flap was closed by the fire tender, and the lodge became jet black, and the heat rose when water was poured on the red hot rocks in the center, and we wondered whether we might pass out, the heat was so intense.
The second flap, the flap for healing, was the most difficult for another reason: not just on account of the heat, but also because it’s tough for hardened vets to confess we need healing. We did, though, every one of us. And after the second flap was raised we crawled out into the daylight, glistening and breathing deeply, grateful for release. During the third flap we prayed for our community, the Interfaith Veterans’ Workgroup, formed last October to help veterans come home. Veterans need a ritual to help them transition from war making to peacemaking. We are an interfaith group because we recognize that religions are wrongly used these days to incite violence. We are Christian, we are Jewish, we are Muslim, we are Buddhist, we are atheist. We are the Interfaith Veterans Workgroup, welcoming veterans home to a safe soul place; and we are working together to better our neighborhoods.
Rather than cobble together a transitioning ritual from bits and pieces of our various traditions, we decided to employ one that has been practiced for thousands of years over much of the planet, though it’s the sweat lodge ritual of the Lakota people, America’s plains people, which has survived. So, we bent to the wisdom of the Lakotas, and entered the lodge of Owl Talker, alias Bruce Palmer, built on the wooded edge of his suburban home, to grieve our fallen buddies (flap one), pray for healing (flap two), thank the great Spirit (flap three), and smoke the pipe of peace (flap four). Purged, we emerged from mother earth’s womb ready for the next step in a returning warrior’s journey: sharing our warrior wisdom, and serving the tribe.