I have a friend who, after years of my gently inquiring about it, has yet to tell me what happened the day his four buddies were killed in one IED. I’m really not even sure why I ask anymore. It’s either curiosity, or knowledge that talking about it is some sort of reasonable step in the right direction. But he’s not the only one. There are at least a couple who, as far as I can tell, will hardly even acknowledge that they “went to war.” That door, or better put a rather lengthy chapter in their lives, is unaddressed. I get frustrated with them, though, since their silence makes my verbosity look all the more unusual – and perhaps even inappropriate. Maybe I’m telling secrets that are either best kept to myself, or are things we’re never supposed to talk about. I hope I’m not distancing myself from these guys by being different. I worry about that.
But just a few days ago I was told that I clearly still have demons. My first response: “No I don’t. You’re clearly mistaken. I’m just fine. I may have seen, experienced, and done horrible things, but look at me; I’ve escaped unscathed. I’m unaffected by all this. This is why I write so much about the guys that ARE; because I’m on the outside of it and I can see it more clearly from here.”
What is more accurate is that I have simply gone to greater lengths than these other guys to “talk around” the subjects that I don’t want to touch right now. By talking about others’ problems and concerns, telling others’ stories, I have successfully deflected attention away from mine. Not only for an audience and friends, but also for myself. “I will look at these guys and try to help them, but I will decline, at least for now, to examine my own circumstances. I’m not ready.” There are demons, I’m afraid, and I don’t know their numbers. Nor am I entirely sure of their source.
There are a few things that I do know, however. There is the matter of never feeling like I did enough. That my actions, indirectly or otherwise, led to the prolonging of a conflict I now wish I’d my utmost to end. There is suspicion that my leadership decisions needlessly endangered those in my charge, and reflected a greater concern for my popularity than a clear understanding of the mission. There is the belief that “those guys” were heroes and I just happened to land among their ranks and steal attention and respect best reserved for those that earned it. There is the issue of killing, and a similar one of death. There is the pervasive wish that I did more, and a feeling that I’m a fantastic poser. There is also an ambiguous supposition that something has been awakened that can never be laid to rest. And nor am I certain I want to. In other words, do I even want to be healed?
So despite my best efforts to divert focus away from me, the keenest observers still spot the fortress wall and bring it, once again, to my attention. And I don’t like it.
As cliché and fashionable as the expression may be, there is a room that I have not yet entered. I don’t fully know what is in it, for starters. And while I take great comfort that there are a few who will enter it with me, I am unconvinced their support will be sufficient to carry me through. I’m not even certain of what I will find. I don’t know how dark it is, and I still don’t truly know the nature of the beasts within. Once I’m fully inside, I have no confidence I will find the door again. It’s not a place I’m willing to enter right now, or if I ever will be. I question my possession of the necessary fortitude. I give the door, and the subjects it embodies a wide berth. I cannot go there yet. For some time already, and perhaps for a great deal longer, the sentry at the door, FEAR, has kept me far away.
What is equally fearsome is that there’s something in there I may discover I like. And that, in weakness, I wholly give in to it. Yet I know it to be a path of destruction. For now, I run away from it.
Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw
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