Courtesy of “The Time Is Now,” I gave the veterans’ writing group the following prompt:
In the story of “Pandora’s Box” in Greek mythology Pandora, the first human woman created by the gods, opens the lid of a container, allowing all the evils stored inside to escape into the world. In contemporary colloquial usage, to “open a Pandora’s box” refers to an action that seems small or harmless but ultimately proves to have disastrous consequences. Write an essay that starts with a seemingly innocent action, which then unexpectedly unleashes a dramatic chain of events.
Russell Library asked if I would conduct a three-week writing program for veterans in connection with the One Book series based on Unbroken. Laura Hillenbrand’s riveting book recounts the story of Louis Zamperini – budding felon, then track star who competed in the 1936 Olympics and stole a Nazi flag from under the noses of the SS. He became a bombadier in World War II and spent more than a month floating in the Pacific only to be captured by the Japanese where he became the victim of a sadistic guard.
I said yes and met with Christy Billings, the representative from the library assigned to develop programs for “We Were There: Writing Your Military Experiences.”
We framed out the sessions with writing prompts based on Unbroken. We had a small turnout the first couple of weeks, but those who showed up wanted more – so Christy arranged for us to keep going.
That was four years ago. I’ve written about our journey before but not in this context. Here are the Pandora events. Some are dramatic. Not one is disastrous.
- A growing admiration and respect for a group of men who have broadened my horizons and focused my views of the world.
- Making a friend of Christy, whose insights and organizational skills continue to inspire me.
- Meeting brilliant writers. These include the poet Nancy Meneely, author of Letter From Italy. The oratorio has been nominated for an Emmy. Janet Barrett spoke to us and did a presentation for the library about They Called Her Reckless: A True Story of War, Love and One Extraordinary Horse. Her story led me to a magical addition to my tea collection because Reckless came from Jeju Island, the only place in Korea that grows tea. Making a personal contact with Jan Willis, whose writings have awed me for years.
- Reading material I would never have encountered, most especially Until Tuesday about how this rebellious golden retriever with a very human expression led Capt. Luis Carlos Monalván back from a death spiral.
- Extending our reach to the opposite side of the globe with Aussie Bob, our writing partner from the Land Down Under.
- Meeting an energetic, creative, and inspired group of people at the Connecticut Library Association where Christy and I presented a workshop on the writing program.
- Making contact with a growing community of veterans finding redemption through writing. Stay tuned for more on this topic.
Most of all, I take joy in the challenges that allow me to share this enterprise with the world.