Tag Archives: PTSD

A First Communion Mass, Two Parties, a Royal Wedding, and a Death amid the Noise of Fans and Dehumidifiers

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The late Father Andrew Greeley wrote these words in his mystery novel The Archbishop Goes to Andalusia:

“Every sacramental encounter is an evangelical occasion. A smile warm and happy is sufficient. If people return to the pews with a smile, it’s been a good day for them. If the priest smiles after the exchanges of grace, it may be the only good experience of the week.”

Those are words that I hope that I reflect in my life and yesterday was one that I thought of those words a lot.

Saturday was one of the busiest Saturdays that I have ever experienced. It was a good day but after the week that I have had dealing with the damage inside our hows and the noise of fans and dehumidifiers, it was almost too much for me. Yesterday morning I celebrated Mass for the first communion of two of the children of our German NATO contingent with a German priest at one of my chapels at Fort Story.

The service was in German and while the German priest preached I was the celebrant for the Mass. It was the first Mass that I have done in German in over a decade but it was like riding a bicycle, I was able to go right back into it, so much is committed to memory that with a couple moments when I experienced some angst it went very well. It was very special for me because I was asked to do the preparation for the boys by the parents over the past two months. During that time I have really come to love and appreciate them. It was a very special time and a blessing with over a hundred people, Germans and Americans in attendance.

When I was done with that Judy and I had to run home to change and prepare for the afternoon, two parties for good friends that conflicted. I took Judy to one while I went to the other. The party Judy attended was for a close friend of her who is retiring from the Department of Veterans Affairs in Virginia Beach, while I went to the college graduation party for a friend and Navy Veteran in Portsmouth.

Eventually I went back to pick up Judy and spend a bit of time at that party, after which we went home and pretty much collapsed. That being said while there I found out that my cousin Jeanette’s husband Ron had died. She lives in the Pacific Northwest so I called and left a message on her voice mail. She called me back and we had a good talk but still it was a sad time as she tries to sort through her memories.

After that I went through various emails and messages and the took the time to watch Bishop Michael Curry’s sermon at the Royal Wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markel. It was an amazing sermon and very inspirational. I recommend it.

Anyway. It was a long but good day. Being an introvert I was on people overload but that does not detract from all the blessings of the day. The fact is that ministry and life take many forms and I would be amiss not to recognize the grace and love of God in all the people I was with today, but also the joy in being called to love.

Those who have followed this blog as well as my close friends know the struggle I have had with faith over the past decade, including the years I spent as a practical agnostic who hope almost beyond hope that God was still around. His words of the real meaning of the Gospel, that of God’s love were remarkable when compared to the words of men like Franklin Graham and Robert Jeffress. As I thought about today and watched Bishop Curry’s sermon I was filled with hope and I thought of Greeley’s words of a fictional candidate for the papacy in his novel White Smoke

“So many of our lay people believe that ours is a Church of rules, that being Catholic consists of keeping rules. They do not find an institution which is like that very appealing. Nor should they.

In fact, we are a Church of love. Our message from the Lord himself even today is the message that God is Love and that we are those who are trying, however badly, to reflect that love in the world. I find that in my own city that notion astonishes many people. How we came to misrepresent that which we should be preaching above all else is perhaps the subject for many doctoral dissertations.

More important for us today, however, is the reaffirmation that we exist to preach a God of love, we try to be people of love, and we want our church to be, insofar as we poor humans can make it, a Church of radiant love.”

In a way that sums up my Saturday. I may struggle, I may doubt, but I am learning to once again live by faith and love, girded by hope. I believe, help me in my unbelief.

I wish you all a good night or day and hope and pray that the Fire of love for others and God may ignite our hearts and minds to become more like Jesus, especially in the way we treat others. As Saint Francis of Assisi once noted: “Preach the Gospel at all times, use words if necessary.

This morning both Judy and I are exhausted. Servpro came out and took readings and it appears that by tomorrow the fans and dehumidifiers will be removed which will allow the next steps In restoring the house to begin.

So until the next time,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Poetry of Fear: Nightmares and Moral Wounds

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Tombstone at the British Cemetery, Habbaniyah Iraq

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Stephen King wrote: “Nightmares exist outside of logic, and there’s little fun to be had in explanations; they’re antithetical to the poetry of fear.”

I prefer physical pain and physical injury to moral, emotional, and spiritual injury. I agree with Alexander Dumas who wrote in 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 is how I feel over ten years after returning from Iraq in 2008. No matter how well I am doing there are times when things going on in the present fill me with terror and evoke the ghosts of my past. As much as I want to put my war and other wars in the past I see American political leaders, propagandists, and religious leaders doing all they can to bring about new wars abroad and divide us at home.

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I find this deeply unsettling and it causes great anxiety, especially when I try to sleep. On Saturday night I had terrible nightmares of war with superiors trying to force me to commit war crimes. Four times Judy tried to wake me as I screamed and fought and I couldn’t pull myself out of the dreams. Thankfully I did not end up throwing myself out of bed and causing injury as I have done before. Likewise the Papillons, including our youngest boy, Pierre, now know to move to a different part of the bed when I am so unsettled.

Guy Sajer wrote in his book The Forgotten Soldier, “Only happy people have nightmares, from overeating. For those who live a nightmare reality, sleep is a black hole, lost in time, like death.” United States Army General Gouverneur Warren, a hero of many Civil War battles including Gettysburg wrote to his wife after the war “I wish I did not dream so much. They make me sometimes to dread to go to sleep. Scenes from the war, are so constantly recalled, with bitter feelings I wish never to experience again. Lies, vanity, treachery, and carnage.”

In my dreams I remember everything about the war like it was yesterday. The images are vivid: wounded Marines, a wounded Iraqi boy with his father, a rocket flying just a few feet above my head, taking small arms fire in Ramadi on the ground and aboard an Army helicopter which returned fire as we took off from Ramadi, destroyed cities and villages, destitute and terrified people, and refugees.

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But those dreams and nightmares blend reality with unreality, real places with imaginary places, places that I’ve been to but are not the same as they are in the real world and they frequently show up. You think that I would be used to them; but no matter how often I have them I never get used to them, and I can’t really explain them, I only try to survive them.

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Ramadi, January 2008

One of my favorite actors, James Spader, plays a character named Raymond Reddington on the television show The Blacklist. During one episode he told another character something quite profound, something that if we actually embrace it can be somewhat comforting. “There is nothing that can take the pain away. But eventually, you will find a way to live with it. There will be nightmares. And every day when you wake up, it will be the first thing you think about. Until one day, it’s the second.”

Anyway, I have spent my evening watching the musicals Chicago and Mama Mia in order to take my mind off of all that is going on in the world. Now it is time for bed and the world of dreams and nightmares. Thankfully I will get up in the morning and carry on with life, even joyfully.

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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“When Aspiring to the Highest Place” Thoughts on my Third Failure to Select for Promotion to Navy Captain

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Just a short post tonight after a busy day of work and ministry. Not long before I left work I saw an email with a screen shot of the promotion list to Captain in the Navy Chaplain Corps. I was not on it. While I have not seen the promotion listed posted on the Bureau of Naval Personnel website I presume it is accurate and that I was again not selected for promotion.

I am actually relieved this year. Last year I was quite upset at not being selected but this year I rejoice for those men and women who were selected and pray for their success in their higher grade. From the list I saw I have no complaints and after having looked back and reflected over the seven years that I was selected for promotion to the grade of Commander until now I am able to see why I have not been selected for Captain in the Chaplain Corps.

Without going into details part of the problem was me. First I came out as being broken with PTSD and confessing to needing help. One of my former Master Chiefs in the EOD community told me that while it was true that we could be open about needing help, but that if we did we would never get promoted or be assigned to billets that would help us get promoted. He was right.

Secondly, while crashing into the PTSD abyss I never marketed myself to my immediate superiors or the Chaplain Corps of why I should be promoted. From 2010 until 2017 I wrote almost all of my own FITREPS. Since for much of that time I was chronically depressed and often nearly suicidal I wrote reports that were very plain, which basically said that I did my job, whether it was being the Department Head at a Naval Hospital on a major Marine Corps Base or being a professor at a major Joint Staff College. I didn’t try to brag about my accomplishments. Instead I tried to market the successes of my subordinates while trying to find a reason to stay alive. It wasn’t until I left the Joint Forces Staff College and our Commandant, Admiral Jeff Ruth wrote my FITREP did I begin to emerge from the abyss of depression and did I again begin to see that what I did really mattered.

However, what he wrote was not good enough, it was like getting the maximum score in the long program of Olympic figure skating but having fallen on my ass in the short program. That being said I am now quite okay with that. As Cicero said: “When you are aspiring to the highest place, it is honorable to reach the second or even the third rank”

Cicero was right. When I was commissioned as an Army Second Lieutenant in 1983 most of us thought that being about to retire as Major would be successful, a Lieutenant Colonel quite successful, and a Colonel or General officer a superstar. The same was true for my friends who began their careers in the Navy, Marine Corps, or Air Force during that time.

But the cult of success really fucks with peoples minds, and it did mine. Though the number of billets for promotion to Navy Captain, or Colonel in the other services has gone down, along with the chance of selection to Captain, Colonel, Commander, or Lieutenant Colonel the military culture often says that if you don’t make Captain or Colonel you are not successful. Honestly, that is not the case. I know to many men and women who served full careers and ended their careers as Majors or Lieutenant Commanders who were better officers and Chaplains than I will ever be, and I made Major in the Army, as well as Lieutenant Commander and Commander in the Navy.

Regardless of that it really hurts not to be selected. Last year I was so angry and depressed about it that I was practically inconsolable. Later I talked with others who felt the same way after their second non-select and found that they went through the same emotions that I did. All felt that they had been personally assaulted by their non-selection and humiliated, despite having great records of service, education, and training.

Honestly, I think that some of my friends who never made Commander or Lieutenant Colonel were and are every bit more deserving than me. Some of them are the people who helped hold me together after my time in Iraq and when I didn’t know if I would continue living, not just serving. I fully understand the thoughts of Ulysses S. Grant who wrote:

“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.”

I made Major in the Army and Commander in the Navy. I have done close to two full careers in the military and when I retire in 2020 or 2021 I will have served some 39 or 40 years in the military. Like I said, most of us who entered the military in the early 1980s hoped that after 20 years we would be able to retire as a Major or Lieutenant Colonel (Navy Lieutenant Commander or Commander). I have done both and I want to be there for others who have experienced the ups and downs, the triumphs and tragedies, the victories and defeats of military service. How can I not? As Earl Weaver once quipped “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”

That being said I have not stopped learning. I still have two to three years left before I finish my service. In that time much may yet happen because I like you do not fully know of the future, or what it portends. President Trump is not the most stable or honorable or men. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, the hero of Little Round Top and Petersburg, a Soldier, philosopher, and theologian like me wrote:

“We know not of the future, and cannot plan for it much. But we can hold our spirits and our bodies so pure and high, we may cherish such thoughts and ideals, and dream such dreams of lofty purpose, that we can determine and know what manner of men we will be whenever and wherever the hour strikes that calls to noble action…, No man becomes suddenly different from his habit and cherished thought.”

So as I close out the night I am incredibly grateful and thankful and I am profoundly grateful for the men and women who have been pillars of strength and inspiration to me over the past 37 years.

During my career I have been a Platoon Leader, Company Commander, a Brigade Staff Officer, as well as a battalion, group, ship, and installation Chaplain, as well as a professor of ethics and military history. I have nothing to be ashamed about.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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“If Only…” Thinking about the Tapestry of Life

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

It is interesting to think about life, what has transpired, and what might have been if only…

Like anyone I wonder about all of the “what ifs” and “might have been” parts of my life. Of course there are many, going back to things that I could not control, such as the choices that my parents made regarding their lives, career, family, and home. Then there are my own choices, choices that I made, some for better, and some maybe for worse. Then there were the choices of men and women in my life and career that impacted my life and the decisions that I made, again for better or worse.

Some of my dreams, and nightmares too, involve those decisions, particularly the ones that I could not control; but then there were those decisions, particularly regarding my military career choices, that come back to haunt my dreams. Those can be troubling; the things that I volunteered to do and the costs of those to Judy as a result of those decisions. Many of those decisions, particularly my decisions to volunteer for certain deployments and operations have come at a great cost to both of us, the struggle with the effects of PTSD even ten years after my return from Iraq is still very real.

But then I am reminded that none of us have a crystal ball that allows us to see what the result of our decisions will be; none of us are God, or some other omniscient being. We make our decisions based on what we know, and what we think might be the outcome of our decisions.

I love the television series Star Trek the Next Generation. One of my favorite episodes is called Tapestry. In the episode Captain Picard is killed. He is then met by the being known as Q, played by John De Lancie for a do-over, a second chance to reverse a choice that he made as a young officer.

On Q’s promise that his choice will not alter history Picard takes the chance and he ends up regretting it. In his second chance to avoid the incident that allowed him to be killed he alienates himself from his friends, and turns him in to a different person, unwilling to take chances and doomed to insignificance. When he returns to his new present he finds himself alive but a different person. Instead of a starship captain is a nondescript lieutenant junior grade doing a job that he hates as an assistant astrophysics officer.

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Distraught Picard complains to Q:

Picard: You having a good laugh now, Q? Does it amuse you to think of me living out the rest of my life as a dreary man in a tedious job?

Q: I gave you something most mortals never experience: a second chance at life. And now all you can do is complain?

Picard: I can’t live out my days as that person. That man is bereft of passion… and imagination! That is not who I am!

Q: Au contraire. He’s the person you wanted to be: one who was less arrogant and undisciplined in his youth, one who was less like me… The Jean-Luc Picard you wanted to be, the one who did not fight the Nausicaan, had quite a different career from the one you remember. That Picard never had a brush with death, never came face to face with his own mortality, never realized how fragile life is or how important each moment must be. So his life never came into focus. He drifted through much of his career, with no plan or agenda, going from one assignment to the next, never seizing the opportunities that presented themselves. He never led the away team on Milika III to save the Ambassador; or take charge of the Stargazer’s bridge when its captain was killed. And no one ever offered him a command. He learned to play it safe – and he never, ever, got noticed by anyone.

It is a fascinating exchange and one that when I wonder about the choices that I have made that I think about; because when all is said and done, my life, like all of ours is a tapestry. On reflection Picard tells Counselor Troi, “There are many parts of my youth that I’m not proud of. There were… loose threads – untidy parts of me that I would like to remove. But when I… pulled on one of those threads – it’d unravel the tapestry of my life.”

I think that I can agree with that. All the things in my life, the good things and the bad, as well as the paths not taken have all been a part of the tapestry of my life. I would not be who I am without them; and that I cannot comprehend. I would rather be the flawed me that is me, than the perfect me that never existed. Thus, all of those threads of my tapestry are in a sense, precious and even holy.

I’ll keep all of them.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under faith, life, Loose thoughts and musings, philosophy, PTSD, star trek

Thoughts on my 58th Birthday

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today I am 58 years old. I don’t feel that old or act that old and truthfully it’s hard to believe that I am that old. At the same time I do know that I am getting older, the proof is in the pudding around my belly.

Despite remaining in pretty good physical shape for someone my age, (so far this month I have ran and walked 203 miles and will probably have ran or walked over 250 miles before the month ends)  I notice the signs of aging. Despite the amount of exercise and diet I maintain I gained a lot of weight and have a hard time losing it, so Thursday I’m going to the doctor and asking for a complete physical and blood panel.

My hair has been a lost cause for over a decade and I need glasses and hearing aids, although the latter are more for conditions not associated with aging, instead from neurological damage from PTSD, TBI, and concussive injuries. I struggle with PTSD and its demons which are especially noticeable when I try to sleep. My dreams, even those which are not nightmares or night terrors are often quite disturbing, and if not disturbing at the minimum very intense, but I digress…

All that being said after years of struggle following my tour in Iraq which included a faith crisis, severe depression, and even suicidal thoughts I am pretty much loving life again. My wife Judy is wonderful and I could not in a million years have a better wife. We have three great Papillon dogs, Minnie Scule, Izzy Bella, and our youngest, Pierre. One of my priorities in the next couple of months is getting Izzy the training that she needs to be a certified Therapy dog. She has the temperament for it and both she and Pierre are especially sweet and comforting. Minnie is sweet too, but she is quite quirky.

I love life even though I still struggle and I look forward to the future even though I cannot predict that future and the actions of President Trump scare the shit out of me. If there is one person in the world that makes me fear the future it is the current American President. As a military officer I swear my oath to the Constitution not the President and so I will continue what I believe is a principled opposition to his policies as long as I serve as well as maintain a honest Christian critique of the President based on my baptismal, confirmation, and ordination vows as a Christian and a Priest.

That could be risky, especially since there are about 35% of Americans who have proven that they will put their loyalty to the President over all principle, over their Christian faith, or any oath that they swore to the Constitution. Some of them not only speak in a violent manner but act upon their impulses. When I think about them I know that some would target me, and in fact I have been threatened  by neo-Nazis and White Supremacists on this blog and on social media but I must speak the truth.

Having grown up in a military family and subsequently serving over 36 years in the military I find much of my inspiration from military figures, especially those who opposed the totalitarian leaders of their own countries. Most of them are quite flawed men, like me.

One of those men was German Admiral Wilhelm Canaris who was executed on Hitler’s order at Flossenburg Concentration Camp on April 9th 1944 at the age of 58. He noted:

“I die for my fatherland. I have a clear conscience. I only did my duty to my country when I tried to oppose the criminal folly of Hitler.”

Another was General Ludwig Beck who stepped down from his position as commander of the German Army over Hitler’s threatened invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1938 and died in the attempt to kill Hitler on July 20th 1944. Beck noted:

“It is a lack of character and insight, when a soldier in high command sees his duty and mission only in the context of his military orders without realizing that the highest responsibility is to the people of his country.” 

We live in unusual and troubling times. What was considered normal public behavior and respect for law and the Constitution that was a part of the five previous Presidents that I served under is now gone. That is the fault of Donald Trump; the allegedly “conservative” commentators on talk radio and “conservative news sites;” from the lips of supposedly Christian leaders, the Fox Propaganda Network, and from every person who excuses Trump’s lies while condemning their political enemies for far less.

These indeed are unusual and troubling times, times that our Founders warned us about and tried to prevent by the manner in which they devised the government of this country. But their warnings have been ignored and their safeguards imperiled by the actions of the President, his followers, and the leaders of the Republican Party.

Despite that I will continue to face the future with a certain amount of hope even as I quite realistically speak out against the things I see based on my oath to the Constitution.

And I will enjoy my birthday.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, ethics, faith, History, Loose thoughts and musings, Military, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary

The Long Road: Nine Years of Padre Steve’s World

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Tonight a short pause to reflect on the 9th anniversary of Padre Steve’s World, especially for my new readers who might not know how this blog came about.

The blog came out of a question my first shrink asked me as I was beginning to melt down with PTSD and TBI after my tour in Iraq which ended in February 2008. His question, “Well chaplain, what are you going to do with your your experience?” forced me to think, and get outside of myself.

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I certainly wasn’t in great shape, in fact I was falling apart. Chronic insomnia, nightmares, night terrors, depression, anxiety, hyper-vigilance, fear of everyday activities, all took their and my doctors trying different combinations of medicines, each with their own side effects, even while I was undergoing different psychiatric and neurological test. I was a total wreck and often impossible to be around. I was always on edge and prone to anger. I threw myself into work in the ICU sixty to one hundred hours a week depending on my call schedule. That didn’t help, and I got worse. It would take years to see measurable improvement, and even then, with periodic crashes, often connected to the deaths of friends, including those who suffered from what I suffered.

In contemplating my therapist’s question I knew that I wanted to share what I was going through, even while I was in the middle of it.

But there was a risk, and he pointed it out, and I had seen it before; anyone who opens up and talks of their brokenness when they themselves are supposed to be one of the “healers” often ends up ostracized by their community. Their fellow professionals frequently withdraw from them, old friends distance themselves, and sometimes their family lives fall apart. This happens to physicians, nurses, hospital corpsmen, mental health providers, law enforcement officers, as well as highly trained Special Forces, EOD, and other military professionals. It also happens to Chaplains.

Henri Nouwen wrote: “But human withdrawal is a very painful and lonely process, because it forces us to face directly our own condition in all its beauty as well as misery.” That happened to me, and I am better for it.  In the depths of my struggle I found a strange solace in the words of T.E. Lawrence who toward the end of his life wrote a friend: “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.”

So that’s how things began. I wrote about what was going on with me. That included my spiritual struggles, as well as writing about baseball which is as much a part of my spirituality as anything. As I continued to write I began to address social and political issues, and then on to my real love about writing history.  I completed my second Master’s degree in military history a year after I started this blog.

My historical writings have been both educational because of the vast amount of research required, as well as therapeutic. In my reading, research, and writing, I discovered fellow travelers from history whose stories helped me find myself again, men with feet of clay, doubts, depression, often masked by triumph. My examples included T.E. Lawrence, Gouveneur Warren, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, Ulysses Grant, and William Tecumseh Sherman. I found a measure of comfort as well as solace in their lives, experience, and writings.

My immersion in history was further motivated by being able to teach and lead the Gettysburg Staff Ride at the Staff College for three and a half years. That is unusual for a chaplain, but I am an unusual chaplain, as one of my fellow professors said, “You’re a historian masquerading as a chaplain, not that there is anything wrong with that.” 

So that’s how, some 3,225 posts, and three draft books later I got to this point. Hopefully my first book, Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory! Race, Religion, Politics, and Ideology in the Civil War Era get published sometime in the next year.

While I still suffer symptoms of PTSD I have stabilized for the most part, much of it I attribute to a decent combination of meds, a renewed love and friendship with my wife, and my Papillons Izzy and Pierre who are both therapy dogs in every sense of the word. Likewise there have been a few people who stood by me through thick and thin. I have expressed to them how much I appreciate them and because of them I really began to appreciate the words of William Tecumseh Sherman who noted: “Grant stood by me when I was crazy. I stood by him when he was drunk, now we stand together.” Since I have been both at times, I find that such camaraderie is more important than about anything else.

I still suffer from a lot of crazy dreams, nightmares, and occasional night terrors which are so physically violent that I trash around or even throw myself out of bed. Thankfully I haven’t physically hurt myself lately, or had to go to the emergency room as a result as I have on two occasions. I also remain somewhat hyper-vigilant, get anxious in crowded or confined spaces, and there are just some places that I avoid if at all possible. But that is life with PTSD.

I appreciate all the people who subscribe to this blog, those who follow it through social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, and who take the time to comment, as well as to provide words of encouragement. For that I thank all of you.

Have a great night,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under mental health, Military, PTSD, Tour in Iraq

Finding Tipperary 10 Years After Iraq

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

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.

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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