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  • Writer's pictureChar Seawell

In the trauma of war, soldiers cannot avoid deep emotional and physical scars that come with being on the battlefield.  The physical injuries can be treated and hopefully rehabilitated, but the wounds of the soul often are left to fester unexamined and unresolved.

And so soldiers come home, and many become walking time bombs in their own families with no way to process their experiences in a culture that teaches seeking help is a sign of weakness, especially in the macho culture of the military.

But lately I have been thinking about the effects of war not just on soldiers but on the civilians caught in the crossfire, especially in these days when the drums of war beat constantly around the world.  And that has caused me to reflect on my mother’s experience living in Frankfurt, Germany during World War II.

My mother was working in Czechoslovakia when war exploded in Europe. Concerned about her family, she stole a bike to return home, riding at night and hiding in ditches during the day time to avoid encountering soldiers and being captured.  She witnessed Russian soldiers hanging from trees and other horrors I will not detail here. Once, when the air raid sirens began, she raced to a bomb shelter only to find the doors had just been locked. She pounded in desperation as she looked up to see a rain of bombs coming in. Only a gatekeeper who took pity on her broke the rules to let her in.  Her stories were always told in a detached, emotionless way, as though she were reading the captions on a movie screen as the scenes rolled by.

But she survived.

I think the trauma she experienced on a daily basis in a drawn out and devastating war would have to have been so profound that it could not be processed. To this day, I believe her parenting style, or lack of it, was reflective of the survival crises she had to deal with daily, never knowing if today would be her last.

And now in our current time, as I watch the nightly news, I think about the effects of war on other ordinary citizens like her as the scenes unfold before us every day of nations engaged in war.

I think about the Ukrainian cellist who created beautiful accompaniment for several of our song recordings who posts pictures of his beloved Kiev on his Instagram account.  Pictures of bombed buildings and piles of rubble from the window of his apartment appear in his feed.  There seems to be little left of the city he loves.  I picture him composing as the bombs fall and the cries of friends and neighbors fill the air, and I wonder about the wounds in his soul as he seeks solace in his music.

I think about the ordinary citizens caught in the crossfire in Palestine as the death toll continues to mount with no end in sight.  An entire race of people is disappearing before our eyes, innocent men, women, and children, whose lives have no meaning to politicians hungry for power and revenge.

I think about how years ago, Tim and I visited the city of Bayeaux, so he could pay his respects to the men and women who died on D Day liberating the people of France.  Black and white photos of that “freedom day” filled many of the restaurants, and we were told of the continuing gratitude of the people of Normandy for our nation’s sacrifices to help people we didn’t even know.

Americans were revered there for their selfless dedication to the cause of freedom and democracy.

This morning as I watched the news, I  wondered what thoughts would be passed down about us by Ukrainians in the future? Will they tell tales of our sacrifices to help them remain a democratic state?   Or will they remember how American representatives chose support of a tyrannical Russian dictator whose goal was the total subjugation of a once free people.

And I wondered what thoughts would be passed down about us by Palestinians in the future, if a Palestine still exists?  Will they remember that we sacrificed to guarantee them their own land and a chance at prosperity and safety? Or will they remember how we refused to acknowledge the genocide that was unmistakeable and turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to their suffering?

Every ordinary citizen caught up in these wars, through no fault of their own, is giving birth to generational trauma. Their wounds will deepen and fester under rough scabs forged in the fires of hatred and violence. And in some distant future, those scabs will bleed, and I fear these victims will not be posting memories of our compassion and sacrifice as a nation.

They will speak only of our cowardice.

  • Writer's pictureChar Seawell

Before sunrise, the sky, in a designated dark sky area, is mostly unblemished by human light sources.  The light grey of the sidewalks are only timidly visible next to the black asphalt of the streets, and even the most confident of walkers all wear some kind of bright illumination and reflective gear.

It is a small group that manages these walking treks before the dawn, all of us ever wary of desert creatures with whom we share these streets.  We know each other only by our silhouettes as we weave in and out of our empty streets, ever watchful for the sleeping rattlesnake curled on the road or the passing shadow of a coyote or bobcat on their way home to the desert.

And so it was one morning awhile back when I left the dim light of our recessed porch.  The crescent moon cast a meager glow on the sidewalk, so my neck lights were on high beam pointed directly at the path in front of me. But their light was so bright, I felt like I was trapped in an all night convenience store, and so I covered the dual lights with my hands so I could stop and gaze at the unencumbered night sky and catch clear sight of the planets and stars.  As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, a sense of awe enveloped me and caused me to hold my breath, so beautiful was the silence of the stars unwavering in their dedication to illuminate the dark sky.

Uncomfortable with walking on in the near total darkness, I removed my hands from the beams of the neck light and started walking again.  As my eyes adjusted to the sudden light, in the distance I began to make out a shadow of a small rounded back walking in the dark ahead of me in the middle of the road with no illumination. I slowed my pace so as not to overcome the walker and rudely surprise them by my presence.

The problem was, no matter how I slowed my pace, the rounded back of the walker did not move away from me. . It was coming closer.

My brain went into a tailspin.  How could the back of a human form be walking towards me? That defied the laws of physics.  For a moment, I became disoriented and confused.  That back continued to come closer  towards me, and as the space narrowed and my heartbeat quickened, I began to wonder if being alone in the dark was a safe choice.

A few yards later,  the rounded back of the shadow was almost next to me, and I realized it was a person walking backward who could not have seen me, so I coughed and said good morning, still a little fearful and uncertain. A lilting women’s voice answered me, and she turned in my direction and stopped. I could not help but inquire why she would be walking backward in the dark, as it seemed a very dangerous activity.

It helps me with my balance.  I started practicing at home in my house, and as I got better, I started doing it outside. Now I can walk long distances.

We stood in the dark and exchanged pleasantries as neighbors often do here, and then recounted a few more life details before we said our goodbyes and she disappeared, walking backwards, into the dark. You should try it, she called out to me, and she laughed as she continued on her way. As I restarted my walk, I contemplated her sanity, or lack there of, as I watched the first hint of sunrise.  And then it dawned on me.

Maybe she was on to something.

Most of us, I think, go through life armed to the teeth with every form of self-made light.  We think, perhaps if we cover ourselves with enough headlamps and blinking leg lights we will be able to see what lies ahead and be prepared for it. We think we have all the time in the world and that our future is guaranteed.But the reality is that life is a roadmap cluttered with unexpected detours, road closures, and rough surfaces, and it does not come with a set of directions.

No matter what we tell ourselves aren’t we really all making it up as we go, as though tomorrow is certain?  I know I am.  And I am fully loaded with my safety lights and my well made plans holding on to the illusion that I somehow can not only control the future, but that I have some idea of what it holds.

But perhaps if instead I expected that everything is a mystery and no future is guaranteed,  I would be less traumatized when blindsided by the unexpected. Perhaps, if I let go of my own ineffective light, I would stop cursing the inevitable darkness.

And perhaps, if I started practicing walking backwards in the dark,

I could simply embrace the “what is now”

with a well practiced faith in the road I cannot see.

  • Writer's pictureChar Seawell

I should have behaved more and followed the rules better and not worn those mini skirts and knee high go-go boots as a teenager, because, you know, it’s dangerous. I should have listened more in 9th grade challenge English class and not focused on the girl with ripped fishnet stockings where the white flesh poked out, because, you know, she was dangerous.

And I should have learned to stop whistling because whistling girls and crowing hens always come to some bad end.  And that’s dangerous. You know it’s true.  It’s true because my mother always said it to me.  And it’s true because sixty years later, a strange  lady at a dinner table said it to me in German when I started whistling.

I should have run away at the first sign of danger.  Which may have been when I took my first breath.  I should have sought out my real dad, because the one I had could not have been my own. I should have stayed with the neighbors in Yokohama who took me in, and fawned over my blond pigtails, and made me feel wanted.  I should have slept on their tatami mat covered floors and watched the rice paper walls retreat and advance while quiet, kind strangers told me I was beautiful in their unfamiliar lilting tongue.

I should have been something wild and dangerous…really dangerous

I should have joined the circus and run away from my life.  I should have been a high wire trapeze artist in a sparkly red, skintight body suit and flesh colored tights flying through the air with no net while sharp trumpets blared from the orchestra.  I should have sneaked under the flaps of the animal tent by day and trained in secret with the lion tamer and then slipped into the elephant car on the train at night to wrap myself in hay and a wrinkly gray trunk.

I should have been an engineer on a train….a reckless engineer, an engineer who didn’t follow the rules. I would have blown the whistle not at the crossings where I was supposed to, but at every child at play by the side of the tracks and then at the geese in flight.  I would have slowed down and stopped at every field of dandelions and then sped up through towns, exceeding the speed limit to get through the congestion and leaving the waiting passengers staring incredulously at my disappearing caboose.

I should have placed my hands over my ears and hummed loudly off key when the world whispered of my worthlessness and taunted me with accusations of my myriad imperfections.   I should have fought back instead of shapeshifting into a bystander who stood on the sidelines of my own life and let men take control of what was truly only mine to give.

I should have given up. Over and over again.

But I didn’t.

And I hope you never do either.

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