Ethan

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Reporting for Duty, Sir

May 20, 2013

With the permission of his family, I report, with much sadness, that another young veteran whom I have had the honor to serve died this past week. The cause of his death remains unclear, but all agree that it was not self-inflicted, and it does appear that he died suddenly and without suffering.

Ethan (not his real name) first came to my office a couple years ago. He was not in good shape. He had suffered a significant traumatic brain injury (TBI) from an IED (improvised explosive device) explosion while having served in the Middle East, and he had subsequently become hooked on opiates (painkillers). When I first met him, he was gaunt of body and of gaze. He had the distractibility that I have often seen in veterans who are struggling with the consequences of TBI, but his had a desperate edge to it, an irritation that appeared to be heading nowhere, targeting no one in particular.

How good it was, then, that he found Suboxone (an opiate-substitution medication) to be so hope-restoring for him. He filled out in body and in soul, and a smile took up permanent residence on the lower half of his much-less-lined face, a puckish one, I guess I’d say. Great word, puckish. Great smile.

He grew up in a semi-rural area south of Indianapolis. He once told me how to get there, and I realized that I had often passed the requisite landmark on Indiana State Road 37 during my many trips through the years down to Indiana University in Bloomington, where I had taught an undergraduate class. In fact, he was still in high school when I first began making that trek. It was a well familiar one to me, in other words, by the time his mother, who lived not far from that landmark, had already begun praying every morning, every night for his safe return home.

He did return home. But he was not whole. He knew it. His family knew it. Everyone knew it.

Ethan was working with two of our finest therapists at the Indianapolis VA when he came to see me, so he never had a need to share with me any of the worst aspects of his combat experiences. He did hint at them, though. I needed no more than that. His experiences of the War—both of what he saw and of what he had to do—haunted him daily.

Yet as time progressed—and even more, as he worked with his therapists—those haunting experiences receded in prominence, leaving in their wake the far-less-easy-to-treat symptoms of his TBI. Day-to-day detail often confused him far more readily than it had before deployment. Often he forgot where he was to be and when he was to be there—appointments, for example. Family did their best to help him keep track of everything, a challenge for them all. How many times did Ethan come into my office, once more apologizing for having forgotten something, sometimes an important something, sometimes not. Read more

And you let her go

Well, you only need the light
when it’s burning low.

Only miss the sun
when it starts to snow.

Only know you love her
when you let her go.

Only know you’ve been high
when you’re feeling low.

Only hate the road
when  you’re missing home.

Only know you love her
when you let her go
and you let her go
Unknown

 

Awaken

The Awakening

By Sonny Carroll

 

There comes a time in your life when you finally get it …

When in the midst of all your fears and insanity you stop dead in your tracks and somewhere the voice inside your head cries out “ENOUGH! Enough fighting and crying or struggling to hold on.” And, like a child quieting down after a blind tantrum, your sobs begin to subside, you shudder once or twice, you blink back your tears and through a mantle of wet lashes you begin to look at the world from a new perspective.
This is your awakening.

You realize that it is time to stop hoping and waiting for something, or someone, to change, or for happiness, safety and security to come galloping over the next horizon. You come to terms with the fact that there aren’t always fairytale endings (or beginnings for that matter) and that any guarantee of “happily ever after” must begin with you. Then a sense of serenity is born of acceptance.

So you begin making your way through the “reality of today” rather than holding out for the “promise of tomorrow.” You realize that much of who you are, and the way you navigate through life is, in great part, a result of all the social conditioning you’ve received over the course of a lifetime.

And you begin to sift through all the nonsense you were taught about:-how you should look and how much you should weigh,
– what you should wear and where you should shop,
– where you should live or what type of car your should drive,
– who you should sleep with and how you should behave,
– who you should marry and why you should stay,
– the importance of bearing children or what you owe your family,

Slowly you begin to open up to new worlds and different points of view. And you begin re-assessing and re-defining who you are and what you really believe in. And you begin to discard the doctrines you have outgrown, or should never have practiced to begin with.

You accept the fact that you are not perfect and that not everyone will love, appreciate or approve of who or what you are… and that’s OK… they are entitled to their own views and opinions. And, you come to terms with the fact that you will never be a size 5 or a “perfect 10″…. Or a perfect human being for that matter… and you stop trying to compete with the image inside your head or agonizing over how you compare. And, you take a long look at yourself in the mirror and you make a promise to give yourself the same unconditional love and support you give so freely to others.
Then a sense of confidence is born of self-approval.

And, you stop maneuvering through life merely as a “consumer” hungry for your next fix, a new dress, another pair of shoes or looks of approval and admiration from family, friends or even strangers who pass by. Then you discover that “it is truly in giving that we receive [1] and that the joy and abundance you seek grows out of the giving. And you recognize the importance of “creating” & “contributing” rather than “obtaining” & “accumulating.” Read more

The Lessons of the Water Mill

Listen to the water-mill

Through the livelong day,
How the clicking of its wheel
Wears the hours away!
Languidly the autumn wind,
stirs the forest leaves,
From the field the reapers sing,
Binding up their sheaves;
And the proverb haunts my mind
As a spell is cast–
“The mill cannot grind
With the water that has past.”

Autumn winds revive no more
Leaves that once are shed,
And the sickle cannot reap
Corn once gatheres;
Flows the ruffled streamlet on,
Tranquil, deep, and still;
Never gliding back again
To the water-mill
Truly speaks the proverb old
With meaning vast–
“The mill cannot grind
With the water that has past.”

Take the lesson to thyself,
True and loving heart;
Golden youth is fleeting by,
Summer hours depart;
Learn to make the most of life,
Lose no happy day;
Time will never bring thee back
Chances swept away!
Leave no tender word unsaid
Love while love shall last–
“The mill cannot grind
With the water that has past.”

Work while yet the daylight shines,
Man of strength and will!
Never does the streamlet glide
Useless by the mill;
Wait not till to-morrrow’s sun
Beams upon thy way
All that thou canst call thine own
Lies in thy “To-day”‘
Power, intellect and health
May not always last–
“The mill cannot grind
With the water that has past.”

Oh, the wasted hours of life
That have drifted by!
Oh, the good that might have been–
Lost, without a sigh!
Love that we once have saved
By a single word,
Thoughts conceived, but never penned,
Perishing unheard;–
Take the proverb to thine heart,
Take, and hold it fast–
“The mill cannot grind
With the water that has past.”

by Sarah Doudney 1841-1926
Sarah Doudney wrote this when she was 15 years old.

The Old Trunk… – Dennis Lowery

 

“Life was as delicate as the paper held in her hand.”

 

The above is a line from one of my stories and I’ve had people comment they thought it, “Beautiful.” I remember the flashback memory I had when I wrote it and how very true it is. It’s particularly appropriate, I believe, this time of year.

As a teen one of the jobs I had was in an antique store. The owners would buy things from estate sales all over, often in large lots and sometimes wouldn’t know if they had bought “trash” or potentially “treasure” until they received and went through piece by piece. One day, unloading a new batch of things they had brought in, I found an old trunk.

I had personal need of something like that trunk and though old (don’t know how old) it was still sturdy with solid wood, good hinges and even a lock with the key still in it. I asked the store owner if I could buy it or work off the purchase price if they didn’t want to keep it for re-sale. He checked it out and decided it was nothing special. All it had in it was some old scrap newspapers. I think I bought it for $10 and worked an extra three hours or so to pay for it.

I took it home and that evening as I cleaned it up and out… I saw the newspapers were from New Orleans and dated late November 1918. Of course the major news was still about the Armistice and end to World War 1. Wrapped inside a wad of newspaper I found several letters written in French. I took them to my high school French teacher and she translated them (she had a hard time because they were on thin paper, some brittle, and the ink had blotched and faded. They were love letters from a French soldier; the last dated 30 October 1918. On that letter’s envelope someone had written, so hard there were little stabs and tears in the paper, “Il ne reviendra jamais…”

“He’ll never come back.”

When I wrote the line I gave you at the beginning I flashed back to when I held those letters in my hand. Obviously someone had written them out of love… and the slashing comment on the envelope out of bitterness… and in pain. But they couldn’t bear to throw the letters away. Maybe part of them couldn’t give up their love for the man. Though the man was lost they couldn’t leave them and their love behind. Perhaps over the years they took them out and remembered him. Or possibly not… maybe they were something that “was” but no longer “is”… stored in an old trunk.

This time of year lends itself to reflection and the Thanksgiving holiday makes me reflect more than any other. I think about all the things I have stored in my “old trunk.” Like with most people there are many memories. Bits and pieces, large and small, of a life full of experiences, bad and good.

Down deep are: pain and misfortune experienced; opportunities squandered or lost; misplaced love or a sad facsimile because I’d yet to discover true love; anger and its life-eating ways. Those are the dusty, faded, cobwebby things at the bottom I rarely take out. Never to dislodge from their resting place but still part of what made me who I am.

Above that is the good stuff: joyful experiences; things I did right; true love found and a more even-keeled temperament.

And on the very top, the things I take out frequently to cherish that renew me and give me spirit: thoughts of my wife, daughters and appreciation for a life well-built despite all those things at the bottom of the trunk.

I think about those letters I found decades ago in that old trunk; the love, loss and pain they signify. And I think about my life today. There are so many things for which I’m very thankful.

 

via The Old Trunk… – Dennis Lowery.