Column: Moulton's choice to enter the arena

Cheryl Senter/AP file photoCongressman Seth Moulton kicked off his presidential campaign in April with community service at the Liberty House in Manchester, New Hampshire. The Salem Democrat announced Friday he was dropping out of the race and plans to seek re-election in the 6th Congressional District.

A few months ago my journalist friend invited me to tag along to Rep. Seth Moulton’s press conference in Lynn where it was anticipated he was making a major announcement.

The Marine Corps veteran introduced a plan to expand military mental health services, also bringing mental health screenings to schools, and in general, to make help more widely available to the public by establishing something akin to a “911” line for people in crisis.

The usefulness of such a resource might be appreciated by my local first responders, one of whom shared with me that 40% of the 911 calls they receive are from people who are frantically calling out of desperate need for something — just not police or fire or EMS. Referrals get made for services, but it’s often an expensive misallocation of resources.

Moulton chose to use the assembly to also reveal that he himself has sought help for the post-traumatic stress disorder he experienced after four tours in Iraq.

Standing at the podium, pausing to take a breath, Moulton shared the details of his worst, most haunting moment in combat, when everything came down to making an impossible choice in order to save the lives of the platoons behind him, whose fate was in his hands. It involved overlooking an injured child, and I could see the pain flicker across his face as the memory visited him.

I was newly inspired about the benefits of talk therapy when he summed up the results of his seeking help: “I will never forget that little boy’s face, but now, I can choose when to see it.”

So, 2020 will not be the year for a “President Moulton.” But I hope and pray that through the inroads he’s made and his continued effort, it will be the year when we use our best hindsight as a reminder for how we must revere our soldiers in addition to simply taking care of them.

Throughout history (and, of course, Hollywood) we’ve seen that mental illness often comes with other “gifts” that make the world a better place. But, so often, we enjoy these gifts post-mortem. They are treasures left at the altar by tragic figures.

It does not have to be that way. I understand that some forms of mental illness can be disturbing and uncomfortable and inconvenient. But some can be turned around with the benefit of just one friend.

Recent, repeated violence proves that isolation is the perfect Petri dish for disaster.

Which brings to mind a few naysayers I’ve read who want Moulton to give up his congressional seat, claiming he was “absent” to his constituents during his brief presidential bid.

I’m looking at a Twitter photo of Moulton’s emphatic statement, “No civilian should own this gun,” featuring a photo of him in combat gear holding an automatic assault rifle (for the only appropriate use it has in the world, war). Heeding his warning is essential to protecting our schools, our churches, our synagogues, our every gathering place.

Protecting our community one block party, one concert at a time, counts as tending to “home base” as diligently as I can imagine.

Without attention to root causes, fear can overtake our most sacred ground — our minds, and therefore our freedom.

The urge to pull someone down who endeavors to climb to the top calls to mind the proverbial (and apparently literal) “crab pot.”

We’re better than that — or we can be.

Or we can just be informed and give Moulton credit for not neglecting his post.

According to a Gloucester Daily Times article, “Rep. Moulton seeking money for right whale research,” he hauled in a pretty amazing increase by getting the original funds earmarked for the bill bumped from $1 million to $2.5 million.

There are only 411 right whales left. Their existence drives jobs and tourism dollars in Gloucester.

The bill serves federal fishery regulators, commercial fisherman and conservation groups. (Hopefully the spirit of “collaboration” will extend to the right whales to do their part too!)

Daring to enter the arena, particularly one teeming with critics, should not be an all-or-nothing proposition.

Brene Brown is a source of delight to me, and is the curator of many profound quotes.

I love “the man in the arena” by President Theodore Roosevelt as much as she does. I read it whenever I’ve stuck my neck out, opened my big mouth, hit the “send” button, then looked for a rock to crawl under.

In a speech at the Sorbonne he said: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Semper Fi.

Nancy Earley Wright is a writer and mental health advocate living in Andover. She is a political independent.

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