It was an odd job, listening to War.
As a psychiatrist, I once spent my days listening to the words of combat veterans, men and women, from all branches of the United States military, many young enough to be my children, quite a few old enough to be my peers, and, still, a few elder enough to be my parents.
I heard hilarious stories. I heard tragic stories. I heard stories of courage. I heard stories of foolishness. Many, many words, spoken in many voices.
In addition, though, as a civilian, as a person who has been served by those combat veterans, no matter the politics or rhetoric of the moment, I have read—and continue to read—the words of combat veterans: their novels, their short stories, their poetry, their essays, hilarious, tragic, courageous, foolish. Many, many more words, now spoken in one voice inside my head, my internal voice. Yet never my voice. Or at least never fully my voice.
In a previous blog I shared words created in conversations. In this one, I shared conversations with words created in me. Words created by me, yes, if you want to be literal about it. But much more, words created in me, by writers whom I may never meet, by veterans whose words have forced me to respect that I will never hear any words of War (at least until such day as I might find myself in the middle of it) “frontally,” face-to-face, eye-to-eye.
I always did, I always will hear askew, a few degrees off at times, quite a few off at other times.
I never got it, and I never will.
Yet I kept trying to get what I could not get, righting myself a few degrees at times, quite a few at other times, each time re-calibrating, only to start over.
For that is what I have owed and what I still owe these men and women: my willingness to let their words create me by keeping me always askew.
After all, I am one of the Society that sent them to War. I owe it to them never to be quite plumb again.
My blog has been a journal of reflection, of listening, of reading, of missing things by a mile, of trying to retrace that mile so that the next time I maybe—maybe—won’t miss them quite as much.
For now, it speaks for itself. Although at this point I am not adding to it, that could change. I was changed, after all, by the men and women I had the honor to serve. We will see what the future brings.
I welcome you to peruse, and I thank you for whatever time and thoughts you might have.
Rodney J.S. Deaton, MD, JD