Pausing for Memorial Day

13248501_10153529166202805_1753413512293648560_o (1) I hope you all are having a wonderful weekend full of flags and barbecues and beer.

I also hope you are able to take a moment to acknowledge the meaning of the day - a reminder to think of those who died serving this country.

I always had respect for American military holidays, but they felt a little removed to me. I am Canadian, I don't have family in the military and I'm not sure that I've ever spent much time with a veteran before.

Until last weekend.

I went to Texas to teach a writing class during a yoga retreat for vets. Expedition Balance is a non-profit organization based in Houston that helps veterans cope with post traumatic stress disorder. We gathered together and we did yoga, we wrote,  played games, watched movies, made art and cooked dinner. We did outdoorsy Texas ranch things like fishing and horseback riding and hiking and sitting around a campfire.

But what we really did was help each other find some balance and get through life. We laughed at dirty jokes and we cried when we were suffering and we hugged each other for a really long time.

And the Vets welcomed this civilian girl - this vegetarian who can't even watch war movies - and made her feel welcome and loved and part of the family. I made some wonderful new friends, and learned how to check my sheets for scorpions before going to sleep.

It's an experience that I still find fairly indescribable (I better figure it out soon, since the trip was research for my next book about anxiety and depression...) but to call the retreat transformational would not be hyperbole.

The true meaning of Memorial Day is a national day of respect for those killed in service. And I know that all of my new friends are paying homage to their friends - their brothers and sisters - who were lost.

But to think they need a special day for that is fairly ridiculous. I guess it's for the rest of us who get overwhelmed by the marketing and think that this weekend is about mattress sales.

ExBal is a small organization that I'd love to spread the word about. These retreats are absolutely free for the Vets, so they rely on donations. They keep their costs low, so even the most modest donation makes a big difference.  Please check out the Expedition Balance website and follow them on Facebook.