After serving in a scout-sniper platoon in Mosul, Iraq, Tom Voss came home carrying invisible wounds of war — the memory of doing or witnessing things that went against his fundamental beliefs. This was not a physical injury that could heal with medication and time but a “moral injury” — a wound to the soul that eventually urged him toward suicide.
Desperate for relief from the pain and guilt that haunted him, Voss embarked on a 2,700-mile journey across America, walking from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to the Pacific Ocean with a fellow veteran. Readers walk with these men as they meet other veterans, Native American healers, and spiritual teachers who appear in the most unexpected forms. At the end of their trek, Voss realizes he is really just beginning his healing. He pursues meditation training and discovers sacred breathing techniques that shatter his understanding of war and himself, and move him from despair to hope. Voss’s story will give inspiration to veterans, their friends and family, and survivors of all kinds.
We hope you’ll enjoy this excerpt from Where War Ends: A Combat Veteran’s 2,700-Mile Journey to Heal — Recovering from PTSD and Moral Injury through Meditation.
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The grit of Hollywood Boulevard where it crosses Vine and Highland soon gave way to the swank of West Hollywood and the Sunset Strip. We walked past designer boutiques, where shopgirls modeled skin-tight jeggings in doorways; swank hotels with rooftop swimming pools; open-air cafés and secret jazz clubs in back rooms where you had to be on the list to get in; gay bars and straight bars and in-between bars and Sprinkles Cupcakes and Pink’s Hot Dogs and packed Jewish delis.
And then we crossed into Beverly Hills, and suddenly everything was green. The lawns were soft and lime-colored, and the giant palm trees swayed and sparkled in the sun. Immaculate homes were hidden behind perfectly manicured hedges. Fountains danced in the courtyards of iconic hotels: Beverly Hills. Beverly Hilton. Beverly Wilshire.
Anthony and I strolled down the boulevard, past guards in little booths whose job it was to keep nonresidents out of the gated communities. But sometimes I could see the houses from the street, and when I could, I noticed crews of people tending to the great, green lawns. Every lawn we saw had workers scattered about, trimming the hedges, mowing the lawn, spraying plants with a spray gun attached to a Ghostbusters-style backpack. There were dozens of them, four or six guys at every house we passed that we could see. They were pruning and sweeping and blowing and mowing, caring for the land, out in the sun, underneath the silently swaying palms with shiny leaves. I wondered where the owners of the homes were at that moment, and what they were doing so they could afford to hire so many people to take such good care of their houses.
As we tromped along the sidewalk, our dirty clothes and sweaty beards painfully out of place, I thought about Wolf-Walker. I remembered what he’d said about taking responsibility for your own healing, and how no one else can do it for you, how you can’t outsource the restoration of your soul. I imagined that the people who outsourced their landscaping, and their childcare, and their errand-running, and their dogwalking also had personal assistants and press agents and stylists and a team of people helping them run the business of being them. Maybe, just like they left the care of their home to other people, they left the care of their soul to others, too. Through private yoga instructors and masseurs and life coaches and meditation teachers, they tried to outsource their well-being.
I looked at the marble and stucco and wrought iron and gold and thought about how I had no home to go back to. I looked at the men trimming the hedges and realized I had more in common with them than I did with the faceless, fabulous homeowners. I didn’t know how to get rich or how to be famous or who to make deals with or how to be successful. I couldn’t even imagine the lives those people were leading behind the doors that had been imported from France. But I was pretty sure that by now, 2,691 miles into the trek, I had learned something important — that one of the secrets to happiness and healing was to trim your own hedges. To tend to the parts of you that grow wild and unwieldy without regular attention and care. To take responsibility for the parts of yourself that need to be tamed and revitalized on the regular. Deep, true, lasting healing can’t come from anyone but you.
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Tom Voss served as an infantry scout in the 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment’s scout-sniper platoon. While deployed in Mosul, Iraq, he participated in hundreds of combat and humanitarian missions. Find out more about his work at www.TheMeditatingVet.com.
Rebecca Anne Nguyen, Voss’s sister and coauthor, is a writer based in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Excerpted from the book Where War Ends. Copyright © 2019 by Tom Voss and Rebecca Anne Nguyen.