As a part of our fundraising campaign to support Incoming, we’ve been asking our veteran writers to say a few words about their work with So Say We All. This week, however, we wanted to hear a little from one of our steadfast volunteers and teaching artists who has worked extensively with these veterans. Today’s entry is from Kym Pappas (who is so much more to us than simply a performance coach) about her work with Samuel Abel (you can hear Sam’s story today on episode 4 of Incoming on KPBS radio at 12:30). Here’s Kym:
A few sentences about working with Sam… or a lesson in showing up and staying present, even when you’re scared.
I agreed to work with Sam before I read his story. I felt honored to be asked to be a part of So Say We All’s latest adventure and any time my schedule allows me to get in the room with people brave enough to speak their truth, I am down. On January 26th, I read Sam’s story… and I almost backed out because I was afraid.
I am an actor, a director, a teaching artist, and sometimes I write things. In my own work, I am all about asking big uncomfortable questions and digging into personal histories in order to get to the emotional core of things. We all need a space to get honest… to get ugly… and I do what I can to create a safe place for people to do that. When I was entrusted with Sam’s story my fear was that I could not make a space safe enough. Here is a man telling us the reality of life during and after war. How do I ask someone who is living with PTSD to dive into the details with me, knowing full well that this could be triggering? What kind of safety is there in that?
Upon meeting Sam (and after initial pleasantries) my only choice was to be as honest with him as I was about to ask him to be with me.
I think it went something like… “I cannot say that I know your experience… I cannot even imagine… but, I was diagnosed with PTSD when I was 12 and I know what it is to live haunted. If at any point this gets to be too much or if I say something stupid, just let me know.”
Once that was on the table we jumped into who we are and where we come from. I was gifted stories about the infamous pool parties with the margarita machine. Then we dove into the piece at hand. The conversation began with, “Why this story?”… “Why now?”… We talked about splitting the self… We talked about the air, the light, the weight… We created a scale, 1-5, “Where are you now?”
The word “moist” happened. I hate that word. Sam loved that… and he took every opportunity to use it against me. We laughed a lot. Sam has a really great laugh.
Sam and I talked about living; about the things we take for granted… or no longer take for granted. I thanked him for showing up honest, for letting us in… because although this is Sam’s story, there are many men and women… they are our friends and family… who understand this story all too well. Sam and I shared some of the things we carry in this life… we talked about how we hope the sharing helps others feel less alone.
And then he let me take a picture of his hands.
Thank you, Sam.
To support So Say We All in continuing this work with veterans and other groups in our community, and so that we can keep making new episodes of Incoming, please visit our Fundrazr and donate.