Start the Healing Process

Why do we often share our most intimate and personal details with a stranger (bartender, random passenger on a plane, in a blog, etc.) instead of a close friend or loved one?  Maybe the look they return is starkly different than the look a close friend or loved one may give after hearing our story?

Time heals all wounds. 

As time lapsed over the years, I thought time healed this wound.  This story is over 15-years old and had been told to probably less than five people in my life. However, about a month ago I told this story for the first time in a long time. Despite thinking about it on many other occasions, without eliciting any strong emotions, surprisingly I was visibly emotional on that day.

Circa 2005, I was an infantry platoon leader in Iraq in charge of 25-30 Soldiers and 4-5 armored Humvees.  We had been in country for maybe less than 3-months.  My platoon had just completed a patrolling mission and it was around 4 or 5pm.  We were excited to get off from our shift and head to base for dinner.  We were traveling west through the city and then turned right onto a northern street to head back to base which was about 5-minutes away.  

The patrol stopped after making the right-hand turn.  My vehicle was second in the patrol.  I exited the vehicle and made my way to the lead vehicle to determine the reason for the stop.  As I was talking with the sergeant of the lead vehicle, I heard a car approaching from an unknown direction.  A 4-door sedan vehicle just turned onto the same street as our patrol.  I turned around immediately since the vehicle was heading directly towards me.  Fearful the vehicle was going to hit me or the vehicle contained explosives that would kill and/or injure anyone close in proximity, I quickly waved my hand in the air repeatedly demanding the vehicle stop in both English and Arabic! 

As the vehicle started to close the distance, I created distance by walking backwards.  The vehicle stopped abruptly and accelerated again.  This pattern continued until the vehicle was within arm’s length where I subsequently slammed my hand down on the hood of the vehicle yelling, “STOP!” 

I stayed in front of the car as soldiers approached the driver and passenger side window to investigate.  A soldier knocked on the driver’s window and demanded the sole occupant of the vehicle roll down the window.    

The next series of events happened so quickly. At the time, it felt like everything moved in slow motion and all sounds ceased to exist.

The vehicle jerked forward.  The driver was attempting to leave.  I jumped from the front of the car to the left side of the vehicle towards the front left fender to avoid being hit by the vehicle.  The soldier at the driver window pounded on the window with the bottom of his fist yelling at the driver to stop.   The driver ignored the request and the vehicle kept accelerating forward.  With the driver window out of reach from the soldier, the soldier managed to pound on the rear driver window causing it to break.

Seconds later a barrage of gun fire was directed at the fleeing vehicle.  The vehicle came to a rolling stop approximately 100 yards from our location. 

I started to run down the street towards the vehicle.  Approximately 50-yards from the vehicle, I noticed the street was eerily quiet.  The sidewalk on both sides of the street were empty.  The erupting gunfire caused everyone to retreat indoors.  All I noticed were injured people in the street along with 2 or 3 stopped vehicles.

As I approached the vehicle, an approximately 50-year old man, in a white robe was agonal breathing in the driver seat.  Eyes glazed over as he sat, head against the headrest, slightly canted left with his hands down by his side.  His body was riddled with bullet holes and life was slowly leaving his body.

Not sure of the outcome of anybody else, but I know that man died that day. 

We experienced other situations where lives were lost.  Enemy.  Civilians.  I vaguely remember those situations.  Often times, I am reminded of the lost memories when I reminisce with old platoon members.  But the memory of that man sitting in his car – holding on to life as much as possible – is still vivid to this day. 

I get emotional now that I think of it again.  Part of the emotion stems from thinking where my life was before that experience, during my deployment and now.  Such different stages in my life.  Another part of the emotion comes from not ever talking about it.

Before that day, I was an innocent Catholic school kid voted Class Clown his Senior Year.  I joined the military as a rite of passage.  A ceremonious life event that would mark my change from childhood to adulthood.  My previous life had ended and my new life would begin on that day. 

For many, war is a shortcut to adulthood. It’s a clear rite of passage in a society that’s increasingly confusing, complicated and contradictory.

Sebastian Junger, author of Tribe

Sometimes change occurs in our life unexpectedly and without a proper transition.  This is why many of us hold on to the past life because we were not ready for the change. 

There are ways of facilitating transitions, and they begin with recognizing that letting go is at best an ambiguous experience.  They involve seeing transition in a new light, of understanding the various phases of transition.  They involve developing new skills for negotiating the perilous passage across the “nowhere” that separates the old life situation from the new.

William Bridges, author of Transitions

Like a flip of a switch, my life changed.  No transition. This is one reason why I cherish the lasting friendships I have with a handful of people from high school.  They remind me of a time I laughed, joked and didn’t take the world or myself so seriously. The age of innocence. 

As time progressed and my life evolved, I was able to finally accept the change.  The healing of my internal wounds began with acknowledging my experiences and not compartmentalizing them.  Understanding this was my new normal, as I mentioned in previous posts. And every aspect of my life, good, bad or indifferent have contributed to the person I am today.  

4 thoughts on “Start the Healing Process

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