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Cratered (1 Viewer)


WF Veterans
There’s no instruction manual explaining how to crawl out of a bomb crater. If there was such a pamphlet, no one would read it. That’s a silly proposition. Yet, there are times over the last year that I wish I had such instruction. At least I would have benefited from a quick overview of the process. Ironically, sometimes it just feels like I’m not doing it right.

I don’t know how far I'd care to flog this metaphor, but it is apt. Life simply drops bombs on us occasionally. Some small, some large, some near misses… Others direct hits. Simply calling these things “problems” is nonsense. A problem is a mathematical query that you work out with a pad and pencil. These bombs are nothing like that. You can’t “think” your way out of their malevolent rain from above. They just hit. You react. And move on, if you can.

While simple in concept, the act of standing and dusting oneself off in a bomb crater is hard enough. First, there’s the shock: Bombs don’t announce themselves. You think you’ll hear a siren or have some warning, nope. There’s smoke everywhere, your ears ring. You were on your feet, now you’re not. Hell, you can be screaming and you might not hear yourself. You’re not sure if anyone hears you. You're not sure of anything.

Instinct kicks in. “Fight or flight”. There’s no one you can actually fight, so sometimes a quick angry yell skyward seems like a good first step. Other times, the brain may instruct you to curl up in the fetal position and await further instructions. Others still may scramble quickly up the sides of the crater, digging their fingers in the dirt on all fours as they try to escape. After all, another bomb may just fall right where you are.

What are the odds of that?

Not knowing. That is the first real terror.

That uncertainty, that fear is the first real feeling. It isn’t pain, or sadness or anger. The fact that something out of your control just rained down on you, and you had zero control over it, THAT is terrifying. Those other feelings, they come later. But the primal fear, it is first. It is prevalent. It is your constant companion. In, and out of the crater.

I don’t think anyone remembers actually crawling out of the crater. You just do it. Sure, later you’ll probably have some incomplete, disjointed memories of the blast, the terror and scrambling up the scarred walls to… What? Now what?

When you’re finally able to engage your rational thoughts, you instantly regret it. Human instinct makes you look at the crater, you just can’t not look. Heaving, breathless, dirty, sweaty and injured in some way, you survey the carnage you just crawled out of. Sensory overload threatens, but then the mind starts organizing data into digestible bites. You chew on the rough chaff, thoughtlessly at first. But eventually, you have to swallow.

The human carnage is of course the worst. Some instinctively run back into the crater to save those that have already departed. As if going back to that space will also return to that point in time, when they were alive. It may still be dangerous in that hole, but it does not matter to you if your mind has returned to that pre-devastation place. Sheer will cannot change reality. Some figure that out in moments, some in minutes, and some never do.

Others may poke around in and about the crater looking for what is left salvageable. It seems that the human brain must make sense out of the senseless, and order out of the chaos. Simply piecing some things back together, or even dusting off a trinket, seems like a first step. Even if it’s something you paid scarce attention pre-blast, it now means something to you. Whatever it is, IT survived. Just like you. Anthropomorphic bullshit, but it happens a lot.

You could spend a lot of time hanging in and around that crater. But soon, the absurdity and futility hits: There really is nothing left here. Why are you still standing there?

You know why you don’t want to actually leave the crater, but it’s a reality that is too terrifying to admit to yourself. Once you stand at the top, and dust yourself off, you look around.

Then, you begin to see it all. There are craters everywhere.

Big craters, smaller ones. Some still smoking, others devoid of any life. Some with people stand over their crater weeping, others scream from the depths of the empty bowl. The ghastly realization descends on you like the malevolent sun burning off your cool blanket of fog. The carnage is everywhere. You thought you were alone. You are not. You were just too busy with your own pain to notice the chaos, literally everywhere.

Of course, it gets worse. They are in no condition to help you, and you certainly are in no shape to render aid to them. The “misery loves company” trope rings as hollow as the echoes in space where your life used to be.

I used to wear my Stoicism like some badge that I earned. Now, I simply put it on every day like a pair of well-worn boots. You break in the boots, take care of them, and you can get where you’re going. There is no glory, no trumpets and banners unfurling. There is just each day. And the day after that. One step, and another.

You have no choice but to pick yourself up, and move forward. It isn’t noble, or virtuous in any notable way. You make a plan. You execute said plan. You make adjustments and keep moving forward. And you pray to God that another bomb doesn’t drop.

But what of the craters themselves?

That’s kind of a personal preference. The silliest thing I see is people that try to fill the crater in afterward. As if not seeing the huge hole in your life will somehow make you feel more whole. Literally trying to smooth the thing over. I have a suggestion: Look at pictures of modern day Verdun and The Somme. French farmers tried to fill those holes in, and after a hundred years, you can still see the outlines of many craters. Trenches like scars. Do what you may, do what you must. In the end, you will still see the edges where life once was, and where it no longer rests.

Others want to preserve the crater like some sacred temple. They visit it’s dark depths regularly. They handle talismans that have no power, and speak to people that are no longer there. It is a comfortable sadness for some. It becomes a dependent dysfunction for others.

I have found myself walking along the third path. I don’t bury my crater, nor do I dwell there. I look at it, mostly randomly. I reflect, briefly sometimes, longer at other times. I remember what was lost. I remind myself to be grateful for the person I am, and the life I have today, because of those that were in my life. And now that they no longer are, I miss them. I miss them terribly. I stare at the abyss and I curse. I weep. And I realize I am powerless. I only have my life, not theirs. Their memory lives in me. All I can do is honor that memory. And that must be enough.

I mentioned earlier about those that have crawled out of their craters, and my inability to help them (and vice versa). But eventually, you just kinda bump into other “survivors”. After you get past your own “survivor’s guilt”, it’s possible to start the healing, and form new relationships. Everyone’s loss is unique. Yet, we all have similar struggles. And pain. And eventually we have triumphs. Talking about these things might not solve anything, but it facilitates the healing. No one crawls out of the crater unscathed.

And no one sees the world the same afterward. Beyond the craters is a shining, unscathed city full of happy, blissfully ignorant people. They are blessed by their youth and / or their fortune not to be in my position. I understand them, because I was once one of them. They do not understand me. How can they? Until you’ve had your life blasted out from beneath your feet, it’s all sympathy. But not empathy.

I wander amongst those people, and their innocence makes me uncomfortable. I want to scream at them some kind of warning. Plead with them to enjoy every moment with their loved ones. I want to admonish them to “toughen-up”, because someday they will need more strength than they think they can muster… simply to get out of bed in the morning. I even sometimes want to hug them and tell them that everything will be just fine. But I am a bad liar. And it won’t be.

“Fine” is a lie. It’s a placeholder for reality. Reality is more complex. Those of us that once had to pull ourselves out of the crater know this. I’m not saying that life can’t be meaningful again. It can even be beautiful at times. But it will never again be “fine”.

It does take a while, but the beauty does reappear. Grass grows over the scarred hillside, smoothing the jagged lines. Rabbits dig warrens in the protective depressions. Small trees take root, and blossom, fed by the pooling water. And in the holes, around the holes, and all over poppies bloom. After the ghastly carnage of Flanders, there is beauty. And in that beauty, a lesson.

Any of us can be lucky, and survive the blast. It’s not heroic to heal, and move on with your life. The real heroism is to see beauty, embrace love and be the best human possible after being bombed. For me, it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But we honor those that deserve to be carried in our thoughts. We live for more than ourselves, because surviving is not enough. We must live with purpose. For ourselves. For them.

Everyone must, in the privacy of their own thoughts, decide what that purpose is.

I will keep her alive in my heart. I wasn’t able to save her body, but I will keep her soul with me until my last breath. I will be a better man, because she made me a better person. The only way I can repay her selfless love is to emulate her kindness. She deserved much more, but it is the least I can do.

I won’t pretend that the craters aren’t still there. But I will focus on the flowers. And I will surround myself with those that appreciate beauty wherever they can find it.

Misery can go fuck itself. My company is joy.


WF Veterans
Thanks, Winston. I get pissed at my wife often lately, but then remember what she's been through - diabetic coma, several strokes, loss of vision and brain damage and wonder what I would have done without her, and what I will do when she is gone. It's a singular hole in the ground that I just keeping stepping around and hoping I don't fall in. Hang in there.