Monday, February 11, 2013

Feeling Lucky

It was a nice surprise the other day to get in touch with a couple of school friends from way back. I’m talking elementary school. I guess I’ve known Jim ever since I can remember, then I find out he married someone that also went to school with us, his childhood sweetheart kind of deal. He told me during a phone conversation that he always had a crush on Barbara, but didn’t start dating her until college. That takes some patience. I recalled that both Jim and Barbara were the top of the class. There is no way I would ever admit this when I was younger, but it's okay now as humility has found me. They were and are smarter than I ever was or will be.

When Jim and I had this telephone conversation this morning, it sure gave me a lot of emotional feelings and allowed them to surface. He told me about his wife’s bout with cancer and how she is one of the fortunate ones that seems to have gotten through it with her life. Besides the feeling that I am indeed fortunate to be remembered over 45 years since the last time I saw this guy, I was reminded of how blessed my own life has been.

That lead to other thoughts and got me thinking about the many good things that have happened throughout my life. Sure, I’ve had some bad things happen too. But the good things were the focus today and I felt I have been very lucky.

Luck. Now there’s a word for the ages. What is luck? Is it going into a situation one way and coming out with a good ending? Is it just for that particular situation, or is it for the entire lifetime? How about some of this and some of that? Hard to figure if you ask me.

I have a couple of friends that have fallen on the ice this year. Both of them ended up with terrible injuries that put them in casts and therapy for the rest of the Winter. I’ve heard more than one of my friends mention, and sometimes ranting about, the idea that something has to change in their lives and they can’t take it any longer.

This reminded me of the year 2005 when I went to Hot Springs, South Dakota to spend eight weeks in an in-patient program that was supposed to help me deal with PTSD and the accompanying symptoms, one powerful one being that of measuring my own self-worth and believing my life had value even when the statistics and how I felt at any given moment made me feel like the most unworthy soul to come down the pike.

This program, run by the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical System, the VA, had us doing classes and other physical and mental exercises that were to help us get through the tough times and help us out in mind, body and spirit.

The main focus to accomplish this was the free time. The time we spent talking with other Veterans that were having trouble with PTSD during this free time was figured into the therapy. Besides the classes in anger management, depression, spirituality and a daily time set aside to walk, and therefore put some exercise into our lives, the program was anchored by a three times weekly group therapy session, each an hour and a half in duration.

It was in one of these counseling sessions that we each got a chance to tell our story. Actually vocalize to ourselves and to each other what trauma, or stressor, we experienced in that American war in Vietnam that more or less defines our experience. The thing that happened that comes back to haunt us at any time and all the time, whether we are sleeping or awake, whether we are experiencing fear,  joy, tears, laughter, melancholy or anxiety.

There were nine others in the group and I can tell you what happened to every one of them. One was on a submarine, one worked at the huge base camp and stuffed bodies into bags, another killed many and watched others kill indiscriminately. Each Brother had his story and as I listened to them, I thought each one had it worse than the one before and for sure had it worse than I ever did. 

I kept wondering what was I doing there? What could I possibly say that would be as bad as what these guys have endured. Surely I had nothing to complain about, be remorse about or be bothered with compared to the others. Each of them had it so much worse. I was so lucky to not have to live with the pain that they have had to live with.

There’s that word again. Lucky. How lucky for this, how lucky for that, or unlucky, if you will.

When it was my turn, I spoke and told of my trauma. Almost apologetic that my experiences were not as traumatizing as their’s were. Feeling poorly that I’d be wasting their time with my paltry story.

That’s when they told me. That’s when we all told each other. That we all felt the same way. They would never want to have to experience what I did, and I would never want to have to go through what each one of them did.

I felt lucky. I was spared the pain and suffering that my brothers had to go through. I didn’t have it as bad as they did. They knew that they wouldn’t want to have to do what I did. Each of us sharing with each other and realizing that we are not alone, that we all have feelings, that it can be far worse for each of us on any given day at any given time.

This idea taught me something and I have carried that through life ever since I got out of that program. The other day, a friend sounded off about her plight. They called it a rant and apologized for it, but I knew what they were feeling.

It’s easy to tell a friend that what they were feeling isn’t true and that the feelings they have aren’t the way life really is, but that would be the way we see it and not the way they are living the experience.

I know those feelings. I know how it feels to feel less than others, to feel worthless, unworthy to our mission in life. It is such a powerless and empty feeling, but if I remind myself of those gatherings with my Brothers-In-Arms back in the counseling sessions at Hot Springs, I can remember knowing that the opposite is the truth. We are all worth something more than we think, even when life’s curveballs strike us square in the jaw.

Take what you need and leave the rest. Someone some where will need it.



Jean said...

It's so true that most of us are sure we couldn't bear what some others must and that our own troubles are paltry in comparison. Yet our traumas, even if seemingly less, still affect us deeply - often our situations, experiences and personalities add to it. Life can be hard. I often feel myself that I was very lucky in many respects but the bad luck affected me so much that I couldn't live up to my potential. In reflection as well, I am understanding now that my neck injury was probably always affecting me more than I understood so I'm realizing that I can forgive myself for falling short a bit even if others don't have the same understanding.

Kim Mailhot said...

Learning that "we are all worth more than we think" is the big lesson, isn't it, Joe ?
I am glad you have have been a Lucky Man, and are here to tell the tales.
Peace and love to you !

Annie Jeffries said...

I read this with a lot of interest, Joe. The opinion that whites can't speak to racism is entirely without merit. We are really speaking here of being able to recognize right and wrong. Even if the facts of a case involve two people of the same race, the outcome would be the same. If this had be same races involved it this would have been, at its core, an unjust act. A lie. A stealing of one person's efforts and making them your own. We can ALL speak to that.

Your reflections on PTSD also hit home. For a long time, Don didn't feel he had a right to his feelings because his experience were much less direct in actual impact. It took deeply traumatized verterans to make him understanding that he could not and should not compare his pain to anyone else's. It's all pain. It effects all of us. And, that pain is an unbreakable bond between the men and women who share that suffereing, no matter its degree or depth.