I just finished reading Romeo Daillaire's Waiting for First Light, his chronicle of his ongoing struggle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after commanding the UN Mission to Rwanda during the genocide of 1994. I stood at a cenotaph today with his words in the back of my mind thinking we can do better than honouring the dead. Here are some of his words.
He finds understanding for that journey in Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner.
let me be awake, my God! Or let me sleep alway.
the pang, the curse, with which they died, Had ne'er passed away;
could not draw my eyes from theirs, nor turn them up to pray.
It has been twenty years since I led soldiers under conditions of unlimited liability and extreme risk, when the air was laden with the smell of death and heavy with screams of utter despair. Twenty years since the millions who remained were left to suffer the injustice and ignominy of refugee camps, at the mercy of a world that never cared.
Twenty years. And yet [I live] it again, right here, right now. How does a mind find peace when it is constantly at war and feels that it's still in the midst of human tragedies that defy description? A mind that has seen and touched and smelled and heard this reality constantly for weeks on end, and never found any solution. I damned myself, and this life that was a constant reminder of death.
The source of my injury was not experiencing the extremes and ugliness of war, per se. It was not the result of combat ... For me, and for too many other veterans, the source of this operational injury is repeated assaults on our most sacred and fundamental values and beliefs. The physical ramifications can be lethal, but PTSD is also a oral injury that ravages our minds, our souls. ... Every fibre of my being -- my belief in fairness, goodness and right action, every value instilled in me by my parents, my community, my religion, my vocation -- was under constant assault from all sides.
Presently, we cast PTSD as an individual's problem, but it is not, and it ust be shared. The Ancient Greeks made it a communal experience through the medium of tragedy, revealing the patterns of war and the realities of the war-wounded in such a way that personal guilt and suffering became a shared experience.