Lao Tzu

"A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.” – Lao Tzu

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Necessity of Bearing Witness: from War Crimes, to PTSD, to Peace

Bearing Witness I

Eighteen American veterans per day die by suicide.   Let us not forget them, even while we remember what they could not forget:
Claimed filed by Iraqi civilian for compensation under the Foreign Claims Act. The Foreign Claims Commission describes the incident as follows: ‘The claimant alleges that on 2 December 2005, U.S. forces raided her house, killed her son and took her car, some money, gold, and furniture. The amount requested is $35,000.’ The Iraqi witness statements go in to more depth. According to the Claimant's statement, US Forces knocked on her door and she let them in. They took her and her daughter to a room, meanwhile they arrested her older son and placed a bag over his head, when her younger son saw this he began to run and was shot 11 times by US Forces and thrown off of a roof. His body was not returned to the family and the family located it 26 days later in the morgue. The older son was released after being held by US Forces for five days. The mother filed a complaint against the US Forces wherein she wrote: ‘After 26 days we found him at the [morgue]. I want to ask why the Coalition Forces lied to about this subject and they said they took him to Salman Pak? Why did they kill my son? What he had done to the Coalition Forces?’ The claim was settled for $10,000.” 
Bearing Witness II

Last night I saw  the movie Triage, with Colin Farrell. While its flaws as film detracted (frustratingly clipped editing, giving many scenes a rushed feeling), it nevertheless touched importantly on the atrocity that is war and the severe damage done to anyone who goes there.

It’s the story of a photojournalist who comes home from a Kurdistan war zone with undiagnosed PTSD, which is exacerbated by an unresolved, secret shame. His bearing witness to mad slaughter and tragedy via photography was one thing; bearing witness to his own psychological trauma was another, the most difficult and painful journey of his life. With the help of a wise old psychotherapist, he makes it through, when he reveals to his wife the guilty mystery of his friend’s disappearance, out loud and properly told in truth.

Bearing Witness III

Yesterday, while reading outdoors, I spotted a dove resting in the middle of my garden. I nearly missed her, for she was perfectly still and camouflaged against the dry soil and grayed oak planter behind her. I thought, “What a smart dove you are to choose that spot to rest in—what predator would see you there, so quietly blending with your surroundings?” But why she was there at all, I couldn’t tell.

It was such a rare event. Doves visit my place regularly, to eat from the feeder on the balcony, or to sit in the pine tree, but never do they stay ground-level for more than a minute or two. Cats are always present; coyotes, occasionally. Jasmine, my adoptee cat, was there yesterday too, napping on the patio bench, then later moving to her look-out tree to groom herself—without once noticing the dove.

I kept an eye on the dove for two hours, while I read my book, until about 7:45 p.m.  During that time, I worried over her, using my binoculars to get an up-close view. She hardly moved, except for blinking her perfect round eye and rotating her head this way and that; I could not see if she was wounded, or stunned, or just plain frozen with fear. I was tempted to approach her to get the answer and rescue her if need be. But something held me back— “Let’s trust in nature’s wisdom and just wait and see...”  I would go to her, but only if a predator approached.

Then, as day’s end and darkness approached, she began to relax, to test herself, moving to another position, extending her wings, flapping them briefly, tentatively.  And that’s when, with a long stretch of her neck toward the near-by pine, she took off, up into the branches, where she disappeared.

I don’t know exactly why this event made me as happy as it did. Most people wouldn’t be attached to a mere bird’s success, so very happy about a dove’s flight to safety, after a long, fearful wait. It’s one thing to be relieved and glad for the bird. But such inner hoorays...I don’t know.

Perhaps the event reminded me of something. Perhaps it just felt right, the symbol of peace, having been sent into hiding, to bide her time in a dangerous world, then at last swooping up to safety to live for another day. After all, couldn’t it be true— spirit long denied; spirit finally freed and made whole again?

Bearing Witness IV:

The rarely-visited issue of Military Sexual Trauma:

Psychotherapy for victims.

Interview, Eli Painted Crow, addresses the calling back of the spirit after war trauma, among other issues, excellently—also, touches on the disconnect between the heart and thinking within military life.
"For us, warriors are not what you think of as warriors. The warrior is not someone who fights, because no one has the right to take another's life. The warrior, for us, is one who sacrifices himself for the good of others. His task is to take care of the elderly, the defenseless, those who cannot provide for themselves, and above all, the children, the future of humanity."

...also just taking a moment to bear witness to such a welcome notion of "warrior."

No comments:

Post a Comment