Saturday, November 12, 2011

Soldier's Heart

Yesterday we honored our veterans. Today, I ask that you extend that observance just a bit longer while you read these words.

While all who left their homes and their families deserve our appreciation, those who endured combat have earned a special place in our hearts. The wounds sustained may be physical, visible in the body or not. Their afflictions may be of the psyche, visible in their behavior or not.

As a psychotherapist, my experience is with these psychological wounds. What our leaders ask of these men and women is not without cost. Of course, we’d rather not face this fact. Not really. Not fully. Just as many of us turn away from the vet with physical scars, we avert our eyes from his or her emotional suffering as well. We diagnose. We blame. We incarcerate. We ignore.

In a marvelous book, Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit, educator and activist Parker Palmer refers us to a riff by the brilliant comedian and social critic George Carlin.
Carlin made a career of drawing our attention to the various oddities of our culture. In "Euphemisms," he hones in on how we use language to avoid painful realities, particularly the hurt sustained by our combat veterans.

“There's a condition in combat,” Carlin states, “…when a fighting person's nervous system has been stressed to its absolute peak…can’t take any more…The nervous system has either snapped or is about to.” Carlin then traces the various names we’ve used for this condition throughout the 20th century.

“In the first world war,” Carlin reminds us, “that condition was called shell shock. Simple, honest, direct language. Two syllables, shell shock. Almost sounds like the guns themselves.”

Then a change occurred in our language, one that took some of the bite out of the harsh realities of war. In World War II, “the very same combat condition was called battle fatigue,” Carlin explains. “Four syllables now. Takes a little longer to say. Doesn't seem to hurt as much.” Surely nothing a nap or a week of R&R wouldn’t take care of.

Time marched on and one war was replaced by another. During the Korean War, the term had morphed into operational exhaustion. “Hey,” Carlin quips, “we’re up to eight syllables now! And the humanity has been squeezed completely out of the phrase…Operational exhaustion. Sounds like something that might happen to your car.”

Next, of course, came Vietnam and these psychological wounds were repackaged yet again as Post~Traumatic Stress Disorder. “Still eight syllables,” Carlin notes, “but we've added a hyphen! And the pain is completely buried under jargon.”

It’s that last line that haunts me. Carlin always makes me laugh, but my laughter has an edge to it this time, an uneasiness born of the recognition that his observations may be about language, but the realities he points to are about human beings. Fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives. Children all. Children of our human family. Not statistics. Not machinery. Real human beings, living and breathing~~or trying to~~like the rest of us.

But Carlin missed one name for the psychological wounds of combat. Palmer tells us that d
uring the Civil War,“traumatized combatants developed a condition…called Soldier’s Heart.”

Soldier’s Heart. How incredibly beautiful. How honest. How true.

Heart comes from the Latin cor which, as Palmer notes, "points not merely to our emotions but to the core of the self, that center place where all our ways of knowing converge...The heart is where we integrate what we know in our minds with what we know in our bones." And this is where these kinds of battle wounds reside, at the very core of a the Soldier's Heart.

So on Veteran’s Day 11/11/11, we honored all our veterans~~the living and the dead, those here and abroad, individuals serving in any capacity. But let us each take a moment~~right here, right now~~to sit quietly and envelop every Soldier’s Heart within our own.

Blessings on every Soldier's Heart.

Loanne Marie

PS. Here's a link to Carlin's Euphemisms. Geesh, but I miss George Carlin!

PPS. And for those interested in learning more about an organization seeking to make sure the prevalence of Soldier's Hearts diminishes rather than grows, here's a link to Veterans For Peace.


Anonymous said...

Right on - when I think of soldiers past and present - I feel for them in my heart. We cannot imagine their stress and , yes heartache.
Thanks for a timely message - every day should be Veteran's Day...

Loanne Marie said...

Well put! And every day should be a day for sending love to all our companions on this Earth journey who walk it with a hurting heart.

Thanks for writing!

Martha said...

Beautiful tribute to our vets. I love Parker Palmer and the Soldier's Heart is indeed an appropriate term. Thanks for writing, and as always, your insight.

Loanne Marie said...

Aw, shucks, ma'am!

I think I've seen Parker Palmer interviewed before, perhaps by Bill Moyers??? I found Healing the Heart of Democracy quite profound and very relevant to today's wildness. I'm guessin' I'll write about it sometime over the next month or so, though I figure I oughta finish it first!

Thanks for reading and for writing!

monica wood said...

This could easily have been a NYT op-ed piece. I'd pull this, Loanne, and save it for next year--send it out where more people will see it. It's so important. Combat ruins so many, many lives.

Loanne Marie said...

Thanks for the idea, Monica. I had tried to get it in the newspaper I write for on Veterans Day itself, but I didn't get it to them before they'd already filled the space. So Saturday it was. I will, though, make a note to repost it next year on the actual day.

Jay said...

I agree with Monica! (Hi Monica!)

Loanne Marie said...

Geesh! Thanks, guys!

Phil Aaronson said...

A truly beautiful and moving tribute. George Carlin gave us the best medicine possible for pain: laughter. Bless him, bless you, bless us all.

Loanne Marie said...

Yes, bless us all~~and that includes you, too, Phil! Good to hear from you.

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