Category Archives: remembering friends

A Return to My Tipperary

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today I am a bit tired and going to post so,etching that basically is a rerun. Ten years ago today I stepped off a plane with the man who had been my body guard and assistant for the past seven months in Iraq. War had changed me more than I had every imagined that it would. Even though I was physically home I wasn’t and over the next decade the war remained with me, and in some ways it still does.

I have written about my struggles with what I sometimes describe as the “Demons of PTSD” and while I am doing much better now than even two years ago I still suffer from it. But being a historian has allowed me to find connections to other men who have suffered from their experience of war, came home changed, and struggled for their existence in the world that they came home to.

The words of those men have helped me to frame my experience even in the darkest times often in ways that my faith did not. One of the things that I struggled with the most and still do is sleep. When I was conducting my research on the Battle of Gettysburg I got to know through biographies and their own writings a good number of the men who fought that battle who are now remembered as heroes. One of these was Major General Gouveneur Warren who has shattered by his experiences during the war. He wrote to his wife after the war: “I wish I did not dream that much. They make me sometimes dread to go to sleep. Scenes from the war, are so constantly recalled, with bitter feelings I wish to never experience again. Lies, vanity, treachery, and carnage.” 

About every year around this time I feel a sense of melancholy as I reflect on war and my return from it. Today I was reading a number of George Santayana’s Soliloquies in England, in particular one entitled Tipperary which he wrote in the time shortly after the war. I think that the first time that I heard the song was when I saw a Charlie Brown special where Snoopy as the World War One Flying Ace alternates between happiness and tears as Schroeder plays the song on his piano.

In Santayana’s soliloquy he comments on the wounded officers that he sees singing the song in a coffee house and he wonders if they understand how different the world is now. I love the song, the chorus is below.

It’s a long way to Tipperary
it’s a long was to go
It’s a long way to Tipperary
to the sweetest gal I know
farewell to Piccadilly
so long Leister Square
It’s a long way to Tipperary
but my heart lies there

Santayana wrote:

“It had been indeed a long, long way to Tipperary. But they had trudged on and had come round full circle; they were in Tipperary at last.

I wonder what they think Tipperary means for this is a mystical song. Probably they are willing to leave it vague, as they do their notions of honour or happiness or heaven. Their soldiering is over; they remember, with a strange proud grief, their comrades who died to make this day possible, hardly believing that it ever would come ; they are overjoyed, yet half ashamed, to be safe themselves ; they forget their wounds ; they see a green vista before them, a jolly, busy, sporting, loving life in the old familiar places. Everything will go on, they fancy, as if nothing had happened…

So long as the world goes round we shall see Tipperary only, as it were, out of the window of our troop-train. Your heart and mine may remain there, but it s a long, long way that the world has to go.” 

In the same work Santayana mused on the nature of humanity and war, making one of his most famous observation “only the dead have seen the end of war.”

In the United States we live in a world where war is an abstraction and the vast majority of people have no clue about it or its cost. When I hear the American President make wild threats of war and the cavalier attitude of his sycophants toward it I realize that Santayana was right, only the dead have seen the end of war.

When I returned to the United States in 2008 it was incredibly hard to readjust to life in a country that knew not war and I was reminded of the words of Guy Sajer in his book The Forgotten Soldier. Sajer was a French Alsacian of German descent who spent nearly four years fighting as an ordinary infantry soldier on the Eastern Front. When he returned home he struggled and he wrote:

“In the train, rolling through the sunny French countryside, my head knocked against the wooden back of the seat. Other people, who seemed to belong to a different world, were laughing. I couldn’t laugh and couldn’t forget.”

A similar reflection was made by Erich Maria Remarque in All Quite on the Western Front:

“I imagined leave would be different from this. Indeed, it was different a year ago. It is I of course that have changed in the interval. There lies a gulf between that time and today. At that time I still knew nothing about the war, we had been only in quiet sectors. But now I see that I have been crushed without knowing it. I find I do not belong here any more, it is a foreign world.”

I have to admit that for the better part of the past decade when I get out of my safe spaces I often feel the same way. I don’t like crowed places, confined area, and other places that I don’t feel safe in. When I am out I always am on alert, and while I don’t have quite the hyper-arousal and hyper-vigilance that I once lived with, I am much more aware of my surroundings and always plan an escape route from any public venue that I happen to find myself. Likewise, I still deal with terribly physical nightmares and night terrors, more than one in the past month.

As I read and re-read Santayana words I came back to his observation of the officers that he saw in the coffee house and I could see myself in them:

“I suddenly heard a once familiar strain, now long despised and out of favour, the old tune of Tipperary. In a coffee-house frequented at that hour some wounded officers from the hospital at Somerville were singing it, standing near the bar; they were breaking all rules, both of surgeons and of epicures, and were having champagne in the morning. And good reason they had for it. They were reprieved, they should never have to go back to the front, their friends such as were left could all come home alive. Instinctively the old grumbling, good-natured, sentimental song, which they used to sing when they first joined, came again into their minds.

It had been indeed a long, long way to Tipperary. But they had trudged on and had come round full circle; they were in Tipperary at last.” 

I too am now in my own Tipperary on this side of the Atlantic. I have been reprieved, at least temporarily,  but as Santayana noted  “it s a long, long way that the world has to go.” 

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve

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Filed under faith, History, iraq, middle east, Military, remembering friends, shipmates and veterans, to iraq and back, Tour in Iraq

The Closet Of Anxieties

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today has been a pretty crappy day. I have been anxious and a bit depressed. A couple of months ago I found an old friend on Facebook. When I found him I was excited. In addition to being my supervisory chaplain, he was a mentor. I lost contact with him after I entered the Navy in 1999. But that initial joy was turned to pain when on an almost daily basis he intruded on my Facebook page, attacked my beliefs, and my character. He had become a complete Trumpite, with no regard for my beliefs, except to attack nearly every day. Most of those attacks involved issues of race and social justice. It seemed that he hadn’t met a White Supremacist that he couldn’t defend or member of a minority group that he couldn’t blame.

So I dropped him and blocked him, I also tightened my privacy settings, and I did receive a lot of encouragement and love from other friends.

Of course I am also anxious about the Platelet Rich Plasma treatment that I will be getting on my right knee tomorrow. I’m not afraid of the procedure, but I’m afraid that it won’t help with the pain that I have in that knee. I am less anxious and more confident in the arthroscopic surgery I am having next Thursday to repair the meniscus on my left knee. I am tired of having to walk with the assistance of a cane and not to be able to run, power walk, or even go for a leisurely stroll. I get jealous and upset when I see people my age out jogging. I feel useless and crippled.

So anyway, I’m tired and going to read some uplifting book about the perpetrators of the Holocaust. Of course, that last part is sarcasm. I hope that I don’t have another of my more frequent crazy dream or nightmares and go crashing out of bed. I don’t need another ER visit.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Loose thoughts and musings, remembering friends

Ghosted by a Former Band of Brothers


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I read an article yesterday by a pastor who experienced a phenomenon known as ghosting. This is where people who once were friends, maybe even close friends suddenly disappear from your life by silently shunning you. When I read his experiences I could relate and the article brought back painful memories of when it happened to me and for the first time I am going to really open up about what happened to me. I have to do it because I have held in the rejection for years, mostly because the people involved never gave me a chance to deal with them in person about what they did. But that is the dishonorable and cowardly thing about ghosting; it leaves people with wounds that they are unable to address, and it causes them to be more distrustful of others, as well as more guarded and careful about entering into new relationships. 

When supposed Christian friends do it to people they often leave the church and never come back. 

In the past I have mentioned what happened to me after Iraq and in the aftermath of being thrown out of a church I had served as a Priest for 14 years in rather oblique ways; ways that allowed people an easy out. But today I really feel the need to open up about it and mention some of the people by their first names. I won’t mention their last names because I don’t want people who don’t know them, or are their current friends to write them off. But I need to mention the first names just in case any of them end up reading this they will recognize themselves and perhaps have an attack of conscience whether they want to have anything to do with me or not. I figure that doing this will remove any ambiguity about who I mean and not allow them any wiggle room to think that maybe they did nothing wrong. If I really wanted to be a jerk I would share their last names, but that’s not my intention, I just want them to think of the consequences of their actions, especially since most are still in some for of ministry. 

Some people may wonder why this and why now? That is a good question. Some people might think I’m being petty or harsh, and maybe even unforgiving by writing this, but truthfully it’s the only way for the truth to be told and maybe for them to wake up and realize that relationships matter. 

In the 14 years I spent as a Priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church I built what I thought were lifelong friendships with many of our fellow chaplains. We enjoyed our times together, frequently talked by phone or corresponded in other ways, sharing our faith, our struggles, discussing theology, ministry, and the military. We called ourselves a band of brothers. 

My closest friend was a Priest named Bill. We entered the church and were ordained about the same time and for years I considered him my closest friend and confidant. There were others in that early group, Ken, Jeff, Jon, Greg, John, Phil, Bob, Steve, as well as others, including Stu, and David, but we were kind of the core. Over the years others came along, and some for whatever reason went their separate ways but even then, most of us tried to keep in contact. 

For me that began to change after I returned from Iraq. I have to admit that I had changed in the course of my time there but I never thought I would be ghosted by so many of them in the aftermath of Iraq and after I was told to leave the church in 2010. Even when I left, most said that we would still be friends and stay in contact. Maybe I expected too much by thinking that the visits, correspondence, and phone calls would continue. Maybe I expected too much by thinking that they would be there for me when I needed them, after all we claimed to be a band of brothers. But words are cheap, simply saying that you are a band of brothers doesn’t mean that you are. 

Within two years of my departure I discovered that phone calls and emails went unreturned, and even though I lived and worked just a few miles from Bill and Ken for three years while I was stationed at Camp LeJeune without Judy, I almost never saw them. I’d ask if we could meet but be told that they were too busy. I haven’t heard from either since I came back to Norfolk in August 2013. Others simply never returned my calls, one of which surprised and saddened me more than most. Thanks Jeff. 

Of the others a couple remain as Facebook friends but I seldom have any meaningful contact with them. Of all of them, only David, a fellow Iraq vet who has gone through similar PTSD issues and much worse physical issues remains in regular contact. We had a wonderful talk Friday night. He’s just finished his first year in medical school and is dealing with a teenage son who is in a lot of trouble. David is a rare soul and I love him, we can talk about anything, share anything, and be absolutely transparent with each other. Of the band of brothers, he is still my brother. 

The most hurtful losses were Bill and Jeff who simply disappeared from my life, and Stu who I had known longer than any of them. Stu had left the church to become a Roman Catholic Priest but he had nothing but condemnation for my announcement of my departure. I haven’t heard from him since he blasted me and called me disloyal to the bishop who threw me out after defending myself on my blog. By the way, speaking of loyalty the Bishop got himself thrown out for going behind the back of his fellow bishops by trying to abscond with all the military chaplains to another denomination. 

I do miss them and I hope that they will read this article if nothing else so they don’t do what they did to me to anyone else. Likewise, while what they did hurts I would not turn any of them away if they wanted to get back together. Although I am still hurt and angry I cannot hate them, and I only wish the best for them. But I think what they did was shameful and I hope that they never do it to anyone else.

On a different level what they did is not uncommon in the church. Christians tend to be the worst advertisement for Christ and after watching the antics of Christians since I returned from Iraq I don’t plan to darken the door of a church when I retire from the Navy Chaplain Corps. I find my less than religious friends to be far more reliable and caring than most of the Christians that I know. 

Now I am certainly not indicting all Christians in this post, or all Priests, chaplains, or ministers. There are many who would never do such a thing, but I don’t know a lot of them. 

So anyway, I know I am not alone. This form of silent shunning and shaming is all too common and not just in the church, but I would say that the damage inflicted by Christians is worse than others. Today I took the opportunity to publicly let these men how badly they wounded me because none of them gave me the opportunity in private. If people think that is inappropriate for me to do then fine, I’ll live with it but now I can finally let it go because after years of holding it in I have at last said my peace and I’m done with it. 

As difficult as the article was to read, and this to write, it has brought me closer to closure and hopefully maybe will open up a chance for reconciliation if any of them desire. That however is up to them. 

I would love to discuss the subject over a beer with any of those involved, but today I needed to finally let it out. 

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, faith, Pastoral Care, Religion, remembering friends

To Take Increased Devotion: A Solemn Memorial Service

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Yesterday at the base where I serve as command Chaplain we conducted a solemn memorial service for the ninety-four sailors and soldiers from our base that have died while serving at war since September 11th 2001. I knew some of them and their families from when I was assigned to EOD Group Two from 2006-2008. As each name was read, a picture of our fallen comrade was shown, a pause followed by the tolling of a bell. The steady cadence of the names, the silence, and the bell tolling continued for each of these men and women who died all too young serving in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, the Horn of Africa, and other places during this war. Ninety-four names, ninety-four lives, ninety-four tolls of the bell.

http://wavy.com/2017/05/25/fallen-heroes-remembered-in-bell-tolling-at-little-creek-fort-story/

The majority of our fallen are SEALS, others in the Special Warfare Community, and EOD techs. As long as these wars continue young men and young women will continue to die and families will be left without husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, sisters, and brothers. The human cost of war cannot be minimized as we honor the fallen this Memorial Day. This is a day that we set aside to remember them, not the living. It is a day for us to remember their sacrifice and commit ourselves to as Abraham Lincoln so stated in his Gettysburg Address:

“It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom— and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, Military, remembering friends, shipmates and veterans, US Navy, War on Terrorism

Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes: Thoughts on Friendships Enduring Friendships

boarding team

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

With these changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes Nothing remains quite the same; With all of my running and all of my cunning If I couldn’t laugh I just would go insane; If we couldn’t laugh we just would go insane, If we weren’t all crazy we would go insane

Jimmy Buffet: Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes

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I had the good fortune to be able to see the Jimmy Buffet concert here on Thursday night and that was followed up Friday by the visit of an old friend who had a great influence on my early Navy career as my detailer, and who as a retired contract Priest at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth was there for me during some of my darkest times after my return from Iraq. It was good to see Father Fred Elkin, a wonderful Priest, friend, and confidant. I also met a new friend, an Army Reserve Chaplain doing some of his training over at Fort Story. Last week I had a long telephone conversation with one of my old enlisted shipmates who served on the boarding time that I served on in the Persian Gulf back in 2002. It is really nice to have those experiences, to have a life, and to interact with people face to face.

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I took off for a weekend last month Just to try and recall the whole year; All of the faces and all of the places; Wonderin’ where they all disappeared I didn’t ponder the question too long; I was hungry and went out for a bite Ran into a chum with a bottle of rum; And we wound up drinkin all night

I find that it is all too easy to miss simple things like that, all too easy to become too busy to keep those friendships and find new ones as well. I hate losing friends too. Over the years I’ve lost my share and some of them were due to by own negligence or stupidity and others for reasons that I don’t understand, but I’ve lost more over politics in the past year and a half than I could have ever imagine, again at least a of these were of my doing, mostly for self-protect in the toxic political climate, but then others I just don’t know, but that’s life too.

Of course there are the friends that die too early and often unexpectedly. I have had too many of those lately, and as I look through my various picture albums I remember the good things about them even as I still feel the pangs of grief at their loss. I cherish their memory and pray that one day we will meet again.

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Even so I find particular value in long term friendships and relationships that have endured the years, one of which goes back to 5th grade. Others, schoolmates, military friends, veterans, teachers, others who I have worked, attended church, marched for civil rights, or imbibed heavily of adult beverages with over the years mean so much to me. I guess that’s one reason that Buffet’s Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes speaks to me. Over the years all of us have grown up and changed, we aren’t the same as we were when we first met each other because of life and our experiences, but we’re still friends.

Reading departure signs in some big airport; Reminds me of the places I’ve been Visions of good times that brought so much pleasure, Makes me want to go back again; If it suddenly ended tomorrow I could somehow adjust to the fall; Good times and riches and son of a bitches I’ve seen more than I can recall

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Some of these folks and I have gone through tremendously difficult times together; we’ve faced career crises, health issues, deployments, family separations, lived in the field, and in combat conditions facing danger, coming home to changed family situations, facing physical injury, and the craziness that is part of dealing with PTSD, TBI, and chronic sleep disorders. I have a friend going through chemotherapy for stage-four lymphoma, and others who have recently gone through life threatening health crises. The cool thing is that we are friends and that we have stood by each other. We can disagree about politics, religion, and so many things that destroy other friendships. I am reminded of what William Tecumseh Sherman said of his friendship with Ulysses S. Grant, “Grant stood by me when I was crazy, I stood by him when he was drunk, now we stand together.”

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I think about Paris when I’m high on red wine I wish I could jump on a plane; So many nights I just dream of the ocean God; I wish I was sailin’ again; Oh, yesterday’s over my shoulder So I can’t look back for too long; There’s just too much to see waiting in front of me And I know that I just can’t go wrong

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The good thing is that life continues and friendships do as well and if I can speak for myself, if I couldn’t laugh and I weren’t crazy I would go insane.

So until tomorrow,

Peace and friendship,

Padre Steve+

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Remembering Those Who Helped Make Us Who We Are

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Historian David McCullough wrote something that I think is all too easy to forget in a world where many people, including our current President seem to think that everything is about them. McCullough wrote:

“We are all what we are, in large degree, because of others who have helped, coached, taught, counseled, who set a standard by example, who’ve taken an interest in our interests, opened doors, opened our minds, helped us see, who gave encouragement when we needed it, who reprimanded or prodded when we needed it, and at critical moments, inspired.”

When I look back at my own life I see the tremendous impact of how others, family, teachers, coaches, pastors, people who I have served alongside or under the command of in the military, as well as just simple people who knew me and cared enough to put an arm around my shoulder, offer an encouraging word, piece of wisdom, of maybe even a observation that wasn’t comfortable to hear, have helped make me what I am today. In fact there are so many of them that it would be almost impossible to list them all, and as we come up on Memorial Day next week I tend to become a bit melancholy thinking about those military personnel who impacted my life and mourning those who have passed on. I have written about many of them and probably will do so again over the coming months, not only the military people but the others, if for no other reason to ensure that they are not forgotten and to remember that everything in life doesn’t have to be about what is going on in the news cycle.

Even so it is humbling to know that if all of these people had not been part of my life that I would not be who I am today.

So anyway, if I can say anything to anyone today, try to remember the people who have helped you become what you are.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Friend in My Adversity…

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today just a short thought. I spent most of this holiday weekend down with a nasty cold which allowed me to do some reading and working on my book A Great War in a Revolutionary Age of Change: The Foundations of the American Civil War and Why it Still Matters Today. What I was working on was more on the technical “wonk” side of the development and use of artillery that preceded the war and how artillery was used in it. Lots of analysis, and delving through obscure books which I found absolutely fascinating, but anyway I digress and someday soon you’ll get to read that as well.

Last night a got a wonderful phone call from an old friend, a priest from my former denomination who remarkably hasn’t cast me off. We had a wonderful time, he’s a brilliant man, a combat veteran of Iraq and suffers from some of the same issues that plague me, but with added medical issues from inhaling so many toxins during his two combat tours. He’s gone through a lot, but he and his family are doing well. He is now in medical school and doing very well, but like I said he’s brilliant.

After we returned from Iraq we suffered and commiserated a lot, sometimes over a lot of alcoholic beverages. Last night our talk went on for quite a while and it was great just to do that, so relaxing, good memories, thoughtful discussion of what is going on in the country and in our lives. One thing he said that meant the world to me was the difference I had made as a mentor, encourager, and friend and how important I was to him. He said I was like the character that Kevin Costner played in Bull Durham, Crash Davis, the old catcher sent down to help out the rising star. In a way he is right, and I love the comparison.

As we talked he noted it was so seldom that people take the time to listen, care, encourage, and mentor others. In fact its something that is mentioned quite often in the New Testament. I mentioned to him that one of the people who recently expressed a similar thought to me was a former Navy doctor who I knew when he was an intern; he’s an atheist, but we truly appreciate and value each other.

Sadly, as a culture we have lost that connection and ability to care and learn from each other, even when we disagree on certain points, even important ones. Additionally, we often tend to discard those who are broken in some way, or who color too far outside the lines. There is a creeping Ayn Rand, survival of the fittest style of Social Darwinism that has infiltrated our culture, and especially the church. It has become part of our politics as well and I am sure under the new administration we will see it bloom as we have never seen it before, but I digress again…

Being friends means to let each other know how much we appreciate each other and encourage one another.

Ulysses S. Grant, who is one of my heroes with feet of clay remarked, The friend in my adversity I shall always cherish most. I can better trust those who helped to relieve the gloom of my dark hours than those who are so ready to enjoy with me the sunshine of my prosperity.” Grant’s ever mindful friend and subordinate William Tecumseh Sherman noted, “Grant stood by me when I was crazy, I stood by him when he was drunk. Now we stand together.” 

With that I wish you a good day,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, Loose thoughts and musings, Pastoral Care, PTSD, remembering friends