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A Return to Innocence

A response to the reading of "The Outpost" by Jake Tapper. Reading about your own trauma an finding innocence again.

I have been engrossed with Jake Tapper’s book, “The Outpost,” since I received it just prior to coming back to Afghanistan a few weeks ago. The stories of the area and the previous squadrons that fought for that land are nerve-racking and compelling. It is hard to explain to those who have never served in the Nuristan area how hard it is to be introduced to the story of a young soldier whose last name you immediately recognize as a memorial title for an outpost you served at. It is also difficult to move through there being so many of them.

I have gotten to the beginning of the story of the Battle of Kamdesh and the events of 3 October 2009, and I need to find some space to sit and just read straight through, uninterrupted. Those sacred stories and the personal knowledge of how the battle affected each of those lives is difficult to move through. I remember the three days of debriefing in the chapel at FOB Bostick with our embedded Brigade Behavioral Health Psychologist, CPT Katie Kopp. I remember the cacophony of anxiety in the room that resonated with me days after, and still resonates with many of those brave souls to this day. I remember the support of a brother chaplain, CH (MAJ) Doug Ball, who alternated with me between the surgical tent and the morgue. His company shared my burden that day, and has bonded me to him inextricably.

I am reminded of an excerpt from Erich Maria Remarque’s book, “The Long Road Back”:

“Morning comes. I go to my class. There sit the little ones with folded arms. In their eyes is still all the shy astonish- ment of the childish years. They look up at me so trust- ingly, so believingly – and suddenly I get a spasm over the heart.

Here I stand before you, one of the hundreds of thou- sands of bankrupt men in whom the war destroyed every belief and almost every strength. Here I stand before you, and see how much more alive, how much more rooted in life you are than I. Here I stand and must now be your teacher and guide. What should I teach you? Shall I tell you that in twenty years you will be dried-up and crippled, your freest impulses maimed and pressed mercilessly into the selfsame mold? Should I tell you that all learning, all culture, all science is nothing but hideous mockery, so long as mankind makes war in the name of God and humanity with gas, iron, explosive and fire? What should I teach you then, you little creatures who alone have remained unspotted by the terrible years?

What am I able to teach you then? Should I tell you how to pull the string of a hand grenade, how to best throw it at a human being? Should I show you how to stab a man with a bayonet, how to fell him with a club, how to slaughter him with a spade? Should I demon- strate how best to aim a rifle at such an incomprehensible miracle as a breathing breast, a living heart? Should I ex- plain to you what tetanus is, what a broken spine is, and what a shattered skull? Should I mimic how a man with a stomach wound will groan, how one with a lung wound gurgles and one with a head wound whistles? More I do not know. More I have not learned.

Should I take you to the brown-and-green map there, move my finger across it and tell you that here love was murdered? Should I explain to you that the books you hold in your hands are but nets with which men design to snare your simple souls, to entangle you in the under- growth of fine phrases and the barbed wire of falsified ideas? I stand here before you, a polluted, a guilty man and can only implore you ever to remain as you are, never to suffer the bright light of your childhood to be misused as a blow flame of hate. About your brows still blows the breath of innocence. How then should I presume to teach you? Behind me, still pursuing, are the bloody years. How then can I venture among you? Must I not first become a child again myself?"

I posted this on our facebook page, and regrettably did not give it the context it needs. You see, Insight is all about healing. And this quote shows a wounded man moving to that place in his life. It’s from a book detailing how German soldiers returning from the Western Front of World War I are reintegrating into society. There is so much that must be unlearned when moving back into the civilian populace, and it is incredibly difficult for the soldier who is either at war or training to go back. There is healing that needs to take place, and an innocence and purity that must be regained. The kind that only comes when looking at the world through the eyes of a child.

We have all experienced loss of innocence, where our naiveté has been swept away by a tsunami of painful reality. The loss of a loved one or the grief of the reality of now living through a future unimagined. We are forced to “grow up” and push our feelings aside, to deal with the here and now in a mature fashion when everything in us screams, “NO!”

I wish, like John Coffey in The Green Mile, I could reach inside others' hearts and remove the pain. I wish that I could undo the lies and trauma. I wish that I could make it all better with a band-aid. I wish that I could go back to kindergarten and just simply break crackers on the line. 

But healing doesn’t come through regression. Remarque is not saying that we must revert to childish ways. He is referring to a life renewed and reborn. I think I remember someone saying the same thing.

Jesus said that in order to inherit the kingdom of God, we must receive it as a child. How can this happen? And what does it mean? He was referring simply to the fact that God has oversight over the whole world, and though many have chosen their own path which has resulted in exponential pain and loss in the world, he is still the King. And the only way to acknowledge this reality and live in light of it, is to simply believe with the same childlike trust and faith that leads my sons to believe all of the tall tales I spin with them over dinner, and that led me to believe that my parents were pilgrims.

The enemy roams about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. He comes to steal, kill and destroy with lies and deception. And those of us who endured trauma at the hands of another human know this truth experientially. 

True and lasting healing comes when we return to the Creator God and asked to be renewed, with the faith like a child. This, in conjunction with wise counsel from trained professionals is the path to recovery. If you need to begin the journey towards healing seek out competent professional help and begin to converse with the Creator. He never intended for so much to be taken away from you, a world of pain was never part of the original plan.