My Day at Stand Down

Patient Expert

Yesterday, I took my didgeridoo to Stand Down San Diego. Here’s the deal:

Stand Down San Diego is a three-day event offering sanctuary and services to about a thousand homeless vets. Back in 1981, a group of Vietnam vets organized Veterans Village of San Diego (VVSD). The organization maintains a rehab center and emergency shelter and offers a range of other services for vets in need.

In 1988, VVSD launched the first Stand Down. There are now some 200 Stand Downs throughout the US.

The co-founder and driving force of Stand Down is Jon Nachison, a former soldier turned psychologist who has been working with vets for about 30 years. He has been featured on 60 Minutes. Two years ago, NAMI San Diego honored him as its Inspirational Person of the Year.

It also happens that Jon is one of my drum circle buddies. Both he and I share the same views on how rhythm and related practices are good for the brain and mental health. It’s not just a belief: Both of us live it. Jon’s djembe and hand pan are an an integral part of him. Likewise for me and my didgeridoo.

I attended my first drum circle in 2011. I had met Jon briefly a couple of times on the local mental health circuit. But it was in the drum circle that the real connection developed. Something magic happens when the drums (and didgeridoo) get going. The sum becomes greater than the parts. The rhythm carries you into a different reality.

It’s no accident that every culture has incorporated rhythm and primal sounds into their ceremonies. We suffer mightily when we allow ourselves to be cut off.

Anyway …

Every year, Jon and his drum circle buddies perform at Stand Down. So there I was, back in 2011. As I wrote of that first experience:

I was fairly inconspicuous, holding a didgeridoo nearly a foot taller than I was, with a smaller didge in a carry bag slung over my shoulder. … I spent the next hour walking at random, getting stopped every two feet to honk my didge, getting into conversations, thoroughly enjoying myself.

Funny thing: I probably encountered some of these very same people on the streets and pretended they were invisible. Likewise, many in their shame, literally shrink into the shadows, invisible. It was a brilliant sunny day. We were out in the open, visible. We liked what we saw.

I'm a journalist. My natural instinct is to ask questions and get stories. But today I was a guy with a didgeridoo. The people around me were fellow human beings enjoying the same sun I was. I didn't ask about their lives, about where they had been sleeping a few days before or where they would be sleeping that night. This was about today. About enjoying each other.

So here I was yesterday. Just a guy with a didgeridoo.

Quick note: More men and women who have served are falling to suicide than have fallen on the battlefield.

And they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. - Book of Isaiah