A clear sky, calm wind and warm weather appropriately set the stage March 14 for the hospital's dedication of its new stone labyrinth, designed to foster an environment for healing, compassion and hope.
Located between Walter Reed Bethesda's Buildings 8 and 9, in the Angel Garden, the labyrinth is a spiritual tool that all staff, patients and family members can use to find peace, pray, or meditate, as they walk along its path toward its center, said Chaplain (Cmdr.) Kim Donahue, who initiated and led the project.
"This is a community garden, and I want everyone to look at it like that," said Donahue. "This labyrinth is dedicated today, an enduring work of love, to bring healing, compassion, hope and peace, in memory and in honor of all who have given themselves to free others."
During the ceremony, Rear Adm. Alton L. Stocks, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC) commander, noted the labyrinth's value and its healing capabilities.
"What a special event this is for us. It's really a unique tool we have in our tool box to provide healing. I'm very excited that we have this here," Stocks said.
Donahue recalled, when she first checked into the command, she walked by the Angel Garden and noticed a large empty circle. Her first thought was to put a labyrinth there. Though the labyrinth was officially completed Nov. 16, 2011, by artist Marty Kermeen, the chaplains delayed the dedication for warmer weather, and Pastoral Care Week, March 12-16, when the department annually recognizes its staff and promotes its services, she said.
Donahue explained how research has indicated labyrinths, which have been used in health care facilities for years, can physically change an individual's energy after walking through its path. She said people tend to get into habitual movements, be it sitting at a keyboard, or reaching to help a patient, and the energy gets "blocked up."
"After walking a labyrinth, your energy is flowing again in all directions," she said. "It balances your system. You're allowing yourself to get in the present moment to let down your guard, [and] relax."
After walking through the labyrinth during the ceremony, Dr. Joan Gordon, a transition coordinator at Walter Reed Bethesda, said it reminded her of how life has its twists and turns.
"Things always turn out better than you anticipate, and there are surprises along the way," she said.
Along with many other staff members, Gordon walked through the labyrinth toward its center where ceremony attendees could pick up a small stone paver, remaining from the labyrinth's construction, as a keepsake. Attendees could also write a message on the pavers, with permanent marker, noting their feelings about their experience while walking the path. Gordon wrote, "Faith, Hope and Love."
"You have faith in certain things. We maintain hope, and without love, we really don't have anything. Love is the essence of everything in our existence and everything we do, that's the thing that really matters," she said. "There's so much love here - the love for our patients, the love from family members that motivates us to give our best. It's very appropriate to have it here."