Thanksgiving can be tough if you are just back from a deployment, or you recently transitioned into civilian life from the military. Sure, the pro football games can offer some welcome diversion, but the squabbles over which cranberry sauce to serve, who sits where, and which Black Friday Sale to go to, seem — superficial. If you intervene in a squabble, the tension just escalates.
Then come the prayers. You sit, blushing, while every one at the table ignores the tension and says how thankful they are to have you back in one piece. If you are “not in one piece,” they just say how thankful they are to have you back. Meanwhile, you think about all your buddies: who is left, where they are, what the families of the buddies who are not home are thankful for. If you are on leave, you might think about how soon you can get back to your buddies. If you are home for good, you might wonder what you are going to do with your life, and why.
Breath deeply. The mundane, meaningless squabbles of life are sanctuary. Participating in them does not cheapen nor deny the intensity of your Spartan life and soul. Ask the shoppers in your family to buy a book for you while they are out. They will leap to this chance to show you they love you. Next, when you are ready, maybe this Saturday, deepen your connection with your most intimate civilian friend by telling him or her what combat or deployment was really like. Use your new book, Karl Marlantes’ What It Is Like to Go to War, to guide your discussion.
HALT! Don’t close this page in disgust over the idea of talking to a civilian about going to war. Hear me out. Better yet, hear out Karl Marlantes first, from his interview in DAV, the November/December 2011 issue, page 33-34. Marlantes is a Vietnam Veteran, a recipient of the Navy Cross, and a former Marine officer who suffered (suffers?) from PTSD.
. . . There is a code in the military that says you can’t whine and you can’t brag. Well, as I tell people, war is 95 percent things to complain about and 4 percent things to brag about, so that doesn’t leave much left to talk about.
So what is going on here, it is a disservice to both loved ones back home and to the veterans themselves, because this isolation does lead to more self-medication and to suicide. And breaking down this barrier about having a veteran being able to talk freely about his experience and having people who love him find out what happened, you know, I think it would be a great, great help. The military can’t solve that one. It is up to us.. . . [emphasis is Fletcher’s]
Only 7.5 percent of Americans are veterans. Helping the other 92 percent to understand the Spartan experience may deepen Thanksgiving for them, as well. Consider what Marlantes said about using the intensity of his combat experience to look at landscapes more deeply than just where to position the automatic fire. As I close with Marlantes’ interview in DAV, also cut yourself some slack — Marlantes has had over thirty years to find meaning in his combat experience. Use the intensity of your own experiences to enjoy the hear and now of a Thanksgiving sanctuary.
. . . No, you will never look [at landscape, specifically the Vietnam jungle, but metaphorically this could be anything] the same, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you will never have a positive experience with it. In fact, being aware of death, which the combat veteran has drilled into his head, makes looking at the beauty even more intense. You know life and death are around you. You know how sweet life is. And you may only get to see this a few times in your life, so you vow to really enjoy it today. It goes back to that near spiritual experience — the here and now. It tends to focus you and even deepens the experience. Nowadays, I’ll look at this scene of beauty and it will occur to me my radio operator who died in Vietnam will never see this. And it makes me sad, and I’m getting sad just talking to you about it. But you know what? It deepens the experience. It doesn’t ruin it.
DAV: There must be a process one goes through to get to where it’s not ruined or to where it is deepened.
Marlantes: Yes, it took decades before I could look at landscape and not think about where I would set out machine guns. I would just be driving down a country road and automatically say to myself, “That tree line is going to have to get defended.” It was just automatic. Thankfully, it doesn’t happen as much anymore because I live in Washington and we have a lot of tree lines.
For more on this interview, go to www.dav.org. For more on the Disabled American Veterans, see my sidebar link under “Charities I Strongly support.”