Very Different Journey, Very Different Hero (II)

“So whose journey should this be, Doctor? Do you really want to know about War?”

I ended my post yesterday with a hypothetical veteran asking me this question. Time to come up with an answer, non-hypothetically.

Funny thing about stories: they don’t even start until something goes wrong. Otherwise, you have nothing more than running commentary on a bad home movie: this happened, and then this, and then this, and then…

As a psychiatrist, I’m well-trained in how to tell the “standard” story of a patient:

Once upon a time, a person was fine, until one day s/he wasn’t. Desperately did s/he want to return to her/his former state of well-being, and so s/he set out on a journey of healing.

Behold! A message comes to her/him: seek out the Wise Mentor with the script pad. He will lead you to Understanding and grant thee the Elixir that will help you find your way back home, whole again.

Mentor met. Elixir prescribed. Celebration upon the return home (after therapy adventures faced and overcome, naturally).

It’s a nice gig, truth be told, the Wise Mentor. I even had an Emmy nomination or two, some seasons back. Got the plaques to prove it.

Now, also truth be told:  to play this gig adequately, I don’t even, technically speaking, have to know that much about War. I just have to know about biology.  You’ve seen one USS Enterprise, you’ve seen them all. The crews might vary here and there, but basic roles are covered, and a drone is a drone is a drone, as long as you program it correctly from the start.  Offer meds, offer therapy, get the show on the road.

That was sort of the whole point of Beam Me Home, Scotty!

But my hypothetical vet invites me to participate in a different story, not as a substitute story (for many, if not most, are quite happy to journey with a psychiatrist if the relationship is a respectful one), but rather as a supplement, a story in which, well, the veteran is the Wise Mentor.

In other words, in that supplement, that Wise Mentor, the vet, is telling me that I am the one who is no longer fine—or who at least should no longer be fine.

Pray tell:  how would that story go?

How about something like this:

Once upon a time, an aging psychiatrist  was living his life in a Society, contributing to it, but also drawing advantages from it.

One day, that Society went to war against another Society. As it happens, when the call went out to to fight this war, many others in his Society answered that call, and the Society had no need to recruit the psychiatrist or any of those whom he loved.  So instead, the psychiatrist kept on contributing to Society and drawing advantages from it, paying for his own little part of the War through his continuing contributions (taxed income) and advantageous withdrawals (monetary support for a commerce system similarly taxed).

One day, however, the psychiatrist turned around, and there standing in front of him was a combat veteran, returned from the War.

“I’m back,” said the veteran. “I took a journey in your stead, in the stead of the ones you love. I lived where you did not have to live. I saw what you did not have to see, heard what you did not have to hear. I did what you did not have to do.”

The veteran then looks at the psychiatrist, who looks back. For a few seconds, nothing, then the veteran simply says, “Nice to meet you, sir. I did the best I could.”

But wait, where’s the problem? Where’s the story-starter?

Good question. Answer? There doesn’t have to be one.

Our good psychiatrist can simply say:

“Thank you for service, brave veteran. Are you having a good day or a bad one?”

And we’re back to the standard, psychiatrist-patient story.

But what if we imagine a slightly different exchange:

“Thank  you for your service, brave veteran. But what do you mean: ‘you took a journey in my stead’?”

“I went to War, sir. So you and your loved ones didn’t have to.”

“What if I didn’t want you to go to War?”

“Did you stop paying taxes, sir? Did you stop participating in the commerce of the land?”

“No, veteran. I did not.”

“Then you agreed that someone needed to go to War, sir, for Those-in-Power declared that War, sir. I did that. For you. Went to War. Whether either of us thought it was or wasn’t a good idea, I did that.”

So now, the psychiatrist must choose: is he (i.e., the psychiatrist) having a good day—or a bad one?

A good day for the psychiatrist:

“My goodness.  Thank you, veteran. I never realized that before.  Thank you. So…are you having a good day or a bad one?”

In contrast…

A bad—or, shall we say, a not-as-good day—for the psychiatrist:

“My goodness. Thank you, veteran. I never realized that before. Thank you. So…what was it like, taking my place?”

Which, of course, brings the question that got this whole post started:

“Well sir, with all respect: do you really want to know about War?”


Long pause.

So the psychiatrist sits there. Meds prescribed. Nothing but time left on the clock.

A decision. Might the world not be as good as our psychiatrist had thought?

His world, that is?

“If I say yes, veteran, then what?”

The veteran looks at him. The psychiatrist looks back.

Then what, indeed.

More to come.

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