Jim Xie, a student of Kathryn Yam at Pierre Elliott Trudeau High School in Markham, Ontario, read and responded to the YES! Magazine article, "Heal the Warrior, Heal the Country," by Dr. Edward Tick, a story about the many veterans he sees physically and emotionally wounded from serving in the war, and how we, as community members, can help these warriors heal.
Writing prompt: Imagine what it's like to serve in a war. Write a letter to a veteran—fictitious or someone you know. Whether or not you agree with U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, how might you welcome this soldier home, and express your support for the transition this soldier faces as he or she returns to civilian life?
An imagined letter sent to a veteran.
Nowadays, ordinary people like me scare from simple things, such as creaks from a floorboard or a passing shadow. Even things we cannot see, notions of the supernatural, elicit unbound fear. Yet we do not know true terror. Real terror. It may be described as the adrenaline of entering the battlefield, or a sinking feeling of helplessness as one watches those around him fall like dominoes, their eyes growing a depthless grey. You should know, after serving for what must seem like an eternity with death as a constant companion.
War. What a small word for what it means, what it is. War is often defined by trivial facts such as victor, date, and duration. However, I believe that the concept should instead be understood with the violence it embodies, the people it abducts, and the irrevocable aftermath that follows.
I think that war doesn’t ever really change. In my opinion, things like war and terrorism are merely tangible manifestations of greed. Whether it’s by fist or gun, the motive is always the same – a yearning for power, for control, for domination. Did you know that 14, 600 wars have occurred in the last 5, 600 years of recorded history? It’s a wonder how something as simple as emotion can lead to the interminable struggling and deaths of millions. Maybe that’s why it still exists today, in places such as Afghanistan and Iran. Forever and always, the effects of war will constitute one of society’s biggest skeletons in the closet.
As much as I may think that war is abject, imagining what you went through is similar to contemplating what it is like to drown when you have never been in water – it is impossible unless you experience it firsthand. As such, I will be careful not to remind you further of any pain you may have endured. Nevertheless, please accept my humblest congratulations on returning home safely. It is nice to see that you are safe, even though you are not without scars, both visible and hidden.
I read that veterans are often alienated from the rest of society, and are viewed by both others and themselves as failures in civilization. Although it may not be my place to say, to me, you are the exact opposite of a failure. You fought valiantly for your country, and in the process, you became more than a soldier – you became a warrior. Were you not fighting for something more than a simple political agenda? Were you not fighting to protect, not to destroy? Whatever you may feel, I implore you not to give up. The gravity of your absence – the void it would create – would bring much more sorrow than happiness. Wouldn’t you agree that it is better to live, to fight to see another day?
I recognize that it may be extremely difficult for you to carry your wounds of war, and even more so to find their remedies. I am familiar with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, what it may do, and what it may cause. To witness violent death, or kill another person, steals one’s innocence and leaves grievous wounds. In order to understand the depth of your psychic suffering, we – your family, friends, and community – will strive to share these burdens with you.
Know that you are not responsible, that you are blameless. We have sent you out to fight our war, and we take full responsibility for you and the repercussions of your actions. Deeply honoring your scars, we fully accept you as who you are – a survivor and a warrior. For every step you take in the moral journey to redefine your battered identity and values, we will walk alongside you, shoulder to shoulder. In consolation and beyond, we will heal your eyes to look past the burdens of yesterday and into the pregnancy of tomorrow. After all, we are your neighbors, your brothers and sisters. In “a nation and a planet of wounded warriors, their offspring, and their neighbors,” we cannot help but to help each other.