Editor’s note: The following letter was received from one of the 2016 VA National Veterans Creative Art Festival (NVCAF) participants. VAntage Point is sharing it with his pemission.
First off, it was far more than just a music thing.The easiest way to describe how I feel is to say that being down there with so many other wonderful people, and with Veterans of differing ages and experiences breathed a new sense of life into my soul.
I came back feeling so much better than when I had timidly boarded the plane to leave home not knowing what to expect. There were moments down there that were akin to a religious experience… I came back with a new faith in the beauty and value of being alive. I know this sounds corny, but that week changed my life.
I met a Vietnam Vet there, he was an artist who had won the gold medal for leather working. There was a moment later in the week while sitting by the hotel pool on the parking garage roof, where I was kind of thinking out loud and to myself how I wanted music and guitar to be a bigger part of my life, and he and I got to talking about a deal that ended up with him driving to Omaha to trade me one of the most beautiful instruments I have ever seen for a rifle that I bought when I was having a hard time with my PTSD.
He made it possible to rid myself of that weapon of destruction and fear for something that has added truth and beauty to myself and those near me, and through that guitar I gained a new perspective on what truly makes me feel the opposite of fear and to loosen the grip I had on the nasty two years I spent in Iraq, filling that black hole of emotions with an instrument of healing and new sense of self.
That is just one example of how the entire NVCAF gifted me with the empowerment to forgive and love myself… and from that my faith in the compassion of others was rekindled, and continues to glow in my day to day life.
I met so many people who encouraged me with my little solo part in “Stand in the Light.” There were moments there where I couldn’t hold back tears, overwhelmed with the reality that there is so much beauty in our world.
That week, that festival… so many moments, interpersonal emotional connections… I think if our country knew, especially in the present time of division we see and feel in our nation, it would inspire so many to see each other with more compassion and empathy. The warmth of my experience during that week continues to drive me to reach out to others, to support and help who I can, and to accept help and love from those whom I share space with in my silly little life.
These thoughts are long overdue, but better late than never.
Thanks for everything, your hard work and dedication to making the NVCAF so meaningful, and for taking the time to read this.
Veteran John Sainato participated in the 2016 National Veterans Creative Arts Festival finals in Jackson, Mississippi.