The Mighty Viking

Conquering those things we must, one story at a time

Archive for July, 2018

Not Mine Alone

So there I was at the Portland VA yesterday.  Veterans of all sorts walked, limped, shambled, rolled, or simply sat, their scars and wounds visible on their bodies, and in their faces.  As I made my way to my appointment with the bone doctor, I took in the view through a window of the photo below.  And it took the time to say a few things to me.

 

Yaknow, it’s kinda strange. I see the American flag out and about, and while i notice it, it doesn’t particularly stand out to me.

 

But put that flag on the hallowed ground of a military installation no matter how humble or grand, or in this case a VA hospital where the wounds of war are visible everywhere,  and a transformation takes place.  A corner of my mind is transported to a place where once there hung a strip of fabric, but now those colors come to life.

 

A pulse beats, a composite rhythm of battles, of hardship, moments of camaraderie, the inner gulp of courage in the face of death. I can feel the weight of the sum of American sacrifice in the languid roll of its furls, the burdened steps of those who have come and gone, as a single, solemn symphony, the full Portrait of American Patriots.

 

It moves me.  It is me.  But it is not me alone.

 

Somehow imbued in these colors is a collective living being, whose purpose is to simply be, an image of us, both a memory of who we’ve been, and a projection of who we will be.  We who have gathered in our country’s moment of need leave a critical piece of ourselves in that being, so that it grows stronger.  It is our responsibility, as citizens, to not see only ourselves, but to see all other Americans.  I am startled to realize that the pulse I hear while standing before these Colors is my own.    And comforted as I sense that it is not mine alone.

 

Perhaps I recognize the smallness of my own voice in its breath. Perhaps my understanding of the knowledge of battle allows me to recognize greater voices. Those who have gone before leave a telltale echo. And I feel the companionship of others who hear it too. Each of our voices sound, to us, small in this symphony. Together though, a character emerges that none of us knew we had.

 

The pulse I hear while standing before these Colors is my own.  And yet, I it is not mine alone.

 

We each have discovered a surprise within ourselves; abilities, courage, and qualities we didn’t know we had, and might never have known. To those who have helped me and accepted into their ranks, there is only one thing I can say, and it isnt enough.

Thank You.

Photo looking out the window of the Portland VA Center.

It’s Been a Little While

It’s been a little while.

On 4th of July, someone popped one of those confetti thingies behind me – I didn’t know she was there. scared the bejeebus out of me, I was a shaky mess for quite a while. But…

That wasn’t The Thing. Not really.

I had a motorbike crash almost two months ago, broke my leg, surgery, hardware, etc. Could have been much worse. But you know, weirdly enough, except for the stress-relieving habit of cracking jokes left and right in the ER when I’m jacked up, I was fine.

There have been a few things that have disturbed my basic groove. But…

It’s been a little while since I’ve had to face The Thing. It’s been a while since I’ve been in That Place.

And then, was it yesterday? Maybe day before? I lose track sometimes…

I had just been reading something, somewhere, online, and came across a written account of the dialogue in the movie “Saving Private Ryan”, in the scene where the German Soldier is grappling with, and then killing one of the characters with a bayonet.

“Give up. It’ll be over soon”. Something like that. The German whispered it like a tempting demon.

There was more, but I don’t need to go into the morbid details. Seamlessly, like the strobing wink of a lighthouse on its rounds, I was in That Place. It’s not a good place. And this world, the real world for better or worse, was faded out completely. I remembered That Place. I felt the atmosphere-controlled air of an underway boat. I heard the inherent, constant hum of a living submarine. The boat moved through its exercises. And I felt it all go still, remembered like I was still at sea, sitting in Sonar. The boat went still, and then a cacophony of men running past the shack, grabbing rehearsed damage control equipment. We rigged our compartment in brisk, practiced movements. Voices gave commands, and passed info… just as we practiced. And then no one running. Everyone who could run aft had gone there, just as we had practiced.

But then… something was wrong. Time dangled with indecision, waiting to know what, why, something – anything. Only the depth gauge moved. I stood on a bulkhead, because our angle meant that was easier than the floor. Just when the tension of knowing nothing reached its apex, the Chief of the Watch started chanting. We could hear his words, and little else, on the open mike saying, “oh shit we’re gonna die” over and over again. The aux operator looked over at me, looking for something like confidence.

I didn’t have it to give.

And that moment, right there, where as a qualified submariner I didnt have an answer… that is where I stay, endlessly repeating. Why did I go blank? What look, what words, what action could I have taken to reassure the sonar crew?

We in Sonar couldn’t fight the casualty – we’re on watch, the problem is back aft, and there’s as many as can be back there already. I can tell myself that a million times. But yet…

Over, and over.

So, we were… just waiting to die. Hope faded as we passed well into that zone beyond which sunlight never reaches.

It was a sick feeling, and I felt that sick feeling as keenly as the day I was there. The floor seemed to tip forward to the down angle we took that day. I could hear everything I heard then, all the sounds the boat made to agree with the COW, that we were indeed doomed.

I don’t know how long I stood there. I don’t even recall standing up. When I bestirred myself the dogs had come to my side. I was weary from standing on one leg, and from the imagined stress of remaining upright in a tipped-over world.

And no one else in the room seemed to notice.

There are a fair number of people whom I love. There’s a lot of people who say they have my back. There are very, very few who seem to actually understood what they offered with that phrase when the moment comes. I guess I don’t really hold the grudge, I understand…well, how hard it is to understand That Place. It took me a couple decades and I’m inside this head.

But when I absolutely, positively can’t take the chance on being ok myself…

I’ll be outside with my dogs for a while.

It gets better, I guess, in the sense while it still happens, between the right meds and counseling and some dedicated work – and the loyalty of two dogs – it’s gotten less frequent.  I’ll f

It’s been a little while.