Between 9/11 and here
Carolyn Surrick’s 125 lunch hours at Walter Reed made music into poetry
He ends up here
Or therapy, or prosthetics
And time goes really slowly.
–Day One (last stanza)
Until Walter Reed Army Medical Center ended its 102-year mission on August 27, it was one sure place to measure the long shadow cast from September 11, 2011.
The poems gathered in Between War to Here are one small measure of that shadow.
The title “has to do with the space between war and Walter Reed, and war and where the rest of us live,” author Carolyn Surrick says.
But poetry thrives on ambiguity, the power of words to mean many things at once. So you might find yourself reversing the key words in the title, and looking, from today’s perspective, back at that fateful Tuesday, when explosive dust clouded clear azure skies. Back from Here to War.
From Here to War
In the aftermath of 9/11, the United States waged two wars. By September of 2006, the number of U.S. soldiers who died fighting those wars surpassed the combined death toll in the World Trade Center Towers, the Pentagon and the crash of Flight 93 in Pennsylvania.
The war wounded are a whole other story, and their survival, treatment and rehabilitation has engaged the nation.
In the first decade of those wars, Walter Reed was the prime hospital for wounded soldiers, their bodies and souls often knocked to pieces, in fighting both wars.
For those very long moments, their eyes hold ours, hoping you will be able to read, there on their corneas, the thing that is so very terrible that they may never sleep again.
–Rule Four: It’s important to break eye contact.
Among the many citizens of Chesapeake Country drawn to Walter Reed to help in whatever way they could — stocking the snack pantry, holding bake sales to buy phone cards, volunteering their boats for fishing trips on the Bay, leading bicycle treks for Wounded Warriors — was Carolyn Surrick of Crownsville.
“When you go snorkeling, you go under and an entire world opens up you never saw,” Surrick said. “I felt that about Walter Reed.”
A musician who plays the viola da gamba, Surrick convinced her sisters in Trio Galilei, Ginger Hildebrand and Sue Richards, to play their Friday practices in the lobby of Mologne House, an outpatient hotel for soldiers beyond around-the-clock care.
Surrick went, she told reporter Diana Beechener for Bay Weekly’s July, 2010, story “Hearing Hope in the Melody,” because “It seemed like a waste of time to practice for myself when I could practice for others and make their lives better.”
Ensemble Galilei, and its Walter Reed-visiting offshoot Trio Galilei, play a string-based blend of medieval, Celtic and folk music. Hip-hop might be more to the taste of the much of their Walter Reed audience, but Trio Galilei’s “stately” offerings have their effect. So the music could be to ear whenever it might be of comfort, the Trio recorded and offered free copies of the CD Above and Beyond.
his tee shirt said
Some Assembly Required
Both of his legs were blown off
one below the knee, the other mid-thigh
he sat in his wheelchair in the middle of the lobby, nodding off
a soldier stopped, taped him on the shoulder,
“hey buddy, do you want me to take you back to your room?”
his eyes opened, “No man, can’t you hear it? It’s beautiful.
The music is beautiful.” …
In that opiated,
where music creates a world
without explosions and sniper fire,
he was good.
From War to Here
Over 34 months, Trio Galilei’s weekly musical vigil has touched Surrick and changed how she felt about music.
“I’ve been a musician all my life,” she says. “But I don’t think I ever really understood how much it can make the world a better place.”
It aroused her “incredible reverence.
“The soldiers believe so strongly in the work they were doing, in serving their country, that there’s no pity but so much honor to be had,” she says.
About what she had witnessed — all these “postcards of thing and people I’d seen and wanted to share with the world” — she could not be silent.
Her knowledge overflowed over 10 months in poetry collected in the slim volume Between War and Here and published in the days between the merging of Walter Reed with Bethesda Naval Hospital and the 10th anniversary of 9/11.
“One of the things that’s so amazing is that everybody there is wounded, so many people with legs, arms or face — or all those things. You get to see these men and women being themselves because they’re not thought of there as having a handicaps. That’s part of what I wanted to share.”
The soldier in the wheelchair
Takes out his cane
and whacks his friend’s prosthetic leg.
Hey! What are you doing? That’s my good leg!
–Two Soldiers Walk into a Bar
Poetry became her medium rather than stories because, she says, “I felt very strongly about protecting the soldiers’ privacy, so I didn’t want to mention their names or describe them or make them identifiable. There’s no way to do that in prose.”
Though many of them take the longer lines of prose, all have the compressed intensity of poetry.
She wrote a poem a day. “The revelation,” she says, “was that it was so easy. It took a long time to run out of things to say, and I loved the work.”
In that place, with those people, for those hours, days and weeks, in these poems, Surrick has gained a new way of measuring the shadow cast on September 11, 2011.
“I don’t ever go to questions about the wars, about justice, wrongness, good or bad,” she says. “My job has been to be present for these soldiers, and the best way to do that is to simply be there. This is where we are at this moment in time.”
Hear the trio play a benefit concert for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 at 7pm at the Unitarian Universalist Church, 333 DuBois Rd., Annapolis. $15 with books and CD also for sale: 443-822-3382.
Read Hearing Hope in the Melody at http://bayweekly.com/articles/news/article/hearing-hope-melody.
Buy Between War to Here: $13.95 at www.uppergreenbooks.com.