When I came home from Bosnia, a VA psychologist gave me two books to read… books that have since become part of what I think of as scripture. At first, I thought he was crazy. It was not a text on what happens to the brain during trauma, or a modern story of a soldier from a war. No, these books were far more ancient, mythological, and eternally true. And it helped me to recognize that I was no longer the person I was when I went off to war… and I never would be again.
You may have heard of these books, and some of you may even have read them. They are by a guy named Homer, and we call them the Iliad and the Odyssey. Particularly, I saw my life, my coming home, in the story of Odysseus, the warrior-king (I always had high ambitions), who after leaving the battle field faced seduction away from cares and from life, faced seeming insoluble emotional dilemmas, faced physical and spiritual threats, only to arrive home and find that everything he thought he knew, everything he had imagined had changed.
There is this perception that happens with soldiers… I’ve seen it both in myself and in the countless soldiers and their families that I have counseled during these wars our nation has chosen to fight… and that is a perception of timelessness. A perception of time, cut out of time. A perception that, no matter what they might have seen or how they might have changed, and no one faces the traumatic experience of war without being changed, no matter how they might have changed, they perceive that things at home will remain exactly as they were when the soldier left. I’ve come to believe that this illusion is so prevalent because while a soldier is going through the whirlwind of personal transformation, they need something, anything in their lives to remain the same… and so they build up an image, and idol of a home life that will be “just as it was when they left”.
I mention this, because I think it is one of the least understood aspects of the transformative power of conflict and war… and it is an issue I face every time I lead workshops for military families on coming home from war, as I did last weekend in Illinois. War changes us all… not just the soldier, but the soldier’s family, all of their friends, and, I believe, the entire society. War changes us all.
In Homer’s epic tale, Odysseus knows that he is changing, transforming, as he faces Gods and giants and sea serpents… His shock is when he comes home to find that all that he had fought to come home to was also transformed. War does not just change the soldier… War changes us all. We are all transformed from who we were the day the first American boots landed on the soil of Afghanistan.
Yours in Faith,