I posted an article last night about three Union heroes of the Battle of Little Round Top in the Civil War; Colonel Strong Vincent, Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and Colonel Patrick “Paddy” O’Rorke. That was the 1999th article that I have posted here, this is number 2000.
I have wondered for weeks what I was going to write about on such an auspicious occasion, and I thought of a lot. However, recent events have brought me to an emphany based on my own experiences to be sure, but also through the study of the post Civil War life of Joshua Chamberlain and Gouverneur Warren as well as the British leader of the Arab Revolt in the First World War, T.E. Lawrence.
The frailties and struggles of these men with life after war in relation to their calling, chosen vocations and family lives have stuck a chord in me that the mere study of them as iconic military leaders had never done. Well over a century after their death of Chamberlain, the lives and words of these men have spoken to me in ways that few things, including the words of scripture and the lives of the great saints have ever done,
I am currently re-writing another article about on another Union hero of that battle, Brigadier General Gouverneur Warren. I expect that after I complete that and get some edits from my wife Judy that it should be posted Sunday or Monday.
I find it fascinating and even ironic how much I learn from the lives of these men, especially the two men who serviced to battle to both great glory and heartache.
If you are a regular reader of this site you probably have picked up how much that I relate to complex, contradictory and often troubled historical figures. My world is a world of various shades of gray. My heroes are usually flawed men, men of great brilliance and intelligence who may on some occasions rise to greatness and other times struggle in the most basic elements of life.
I have written many times and shared my struggles with faith, belief in God, acceptance, meaning and depression. These are things that honestly I did not struggle with, or that I could have imagined before I returned from Iraq. If you had told me in early 2007 that I would struggle with these things I would have told you just how wrong that you were.
I cannot do that now. Although I have been very successful in life as well as my military and academic career I often feel like a complete failure. I struggle to believe that I am not, especially in regard to my service in the Chaplain Corps, an organization that since my return from Iraq I have felt disconnected from and in some cases rejected by. Now I do have to own that as my own issue. In my more recent interactions with some senior Chaplains I have found that my perception may not be true of how I am viewed may not be true.
Alexander Dumas wrote in his literary classic The Count of Monte Cristo:
“Moral wounds have this peculiarity – they may be hidden, but they never close; always painful, always ready to bleed when touched, they remain fresh and open in the heart.”
That kind of got thrown in my face when the contractors preparing the annual Navy Chaplain Corps professional development training conference contacted me. They plan on using my story from the DOD Real Warriors website as a “discussion starter during the training event. The irony is that I told a number of people recently that I felt like the “poster child” for PTSD that no one wants to admit exists. Now it looks like I might be the poster child that everyone sees. The irony is too rich.
I understand from a senior Chaplain who attended the validation of the project, that it was perceived in a very positive manner by the senior leaders of the Chaplain Corps present. My friend whose judgment I trust was surprised by how I perceived that I have been seen by senior leaders. Truthfully my feelings are quite negative and I admit based on how depressed that I have been that those feelings might not be correct.
I am humbled, but kind of embarrassed as you can imagine for a number of reasons, first that I could be wrong about my perception. That is the easier conundrum. The second is that though I have tried to be transparent in sharing my experience on this website as well as in person the fact is that in every case where others picked up and ran with my story, it was on their initiative, not mine. All of those events,including the Real Warriors video and story were scary, because I had to “drop my shields” so to speak and let others tell and interpret my story. Honestly if I was to become famous for anything I would prefer it to be my writing about history, ethics, and of course Gettysburg.
As I told the people for the contracting team I am happy to help in any way that I can so long as those who hear my story are inspired, or even guilted into ensuring those in the Chaplain Corps and those that we serve are cared for and do not experience the hell of what I went through when I returned from Iraq feeling so rejected, abandoned and uncared for by my peers and superiors. So even though the prospect of my story being shared among a community that I have little trust of, I am willing to allow them to use it, so long as it helps ensure that others do not experience what I did on their return from war.
My wife Judy told me that I need to stop my negative self talk, which I probably should try to do but find it hard to do. However,I guess from my clinical experience that I should know better. However, being chronically depressed for years while suffering from PTSD does skew one’s perspective on life and reality. It also can effect how they believe that they are perceived by others, usually in ways that correspond to their own beliefs.
For me I often feel as T.E. Lawrence wrote after he had left the Royal,Air Force where he had served for twelve years under an assumed name following his voluntary exit from the world stage. Lawrence wrote:
“You wonder what I am doing? Well, so do I, in truth. Days seem to dawn, suns to shine, evenings to follow, and then I sleep. What I have done, what I am doing, what I am going to do, puzzle and bewilder me. Have you ever been a leaf and fallen from your tree in autumn and been really puzzled about it? That’s the feeling.”
I do understand what Lawrence meant by this, but I understand what Judy says too. When she says tells me to stop the negative self talk, I know what she says to be true, That being said many times I have a hard time believing it or acting upon it. Of course Judy is quite correct, despite how I feel I am capable of being logical and analytical. That was something that I was always good at doing, thus in spite of myself she has me trapped.
It is somewhat fascinating to me that coming up on seven years after I left Iraq, a country that I would gladly go back to again to help my Iraqi friends that I still seem to be emotionally stuck at the place that I returned. The quote by Captain Picard that I led this article with is an excellent place to end tonight.
Honestly I just want to work my way through this, but I struggle. Since I now seem to be rambling I will close for the night.
Thank you as always for taking the time to include my writings into your life. All of our time is limited and the fact that many of you chose to spend time reading what I write means a great deal to me.
So until tomorrow,