Tuesday, January 31, 2012

"... when the heart is right ..." / spontaneous thoughts in savasana / "I believe in the impossible."

Ch'ui the draftsman
could draw more perfect circles freehand
than with a compass.

His fingers brought forth
spontaneous forms from nowhere. His mind
was meanwhile free and without concern
with what he was doing.

No application was needed
his mind was perfectly simple
and knew no obstacle.

So, when the shoe fits
the foot is forgotten,
When the belt fits
the belly is forgotten,
When the heart is right
"for" and "against" are forgotten.

No drives, no compulsions,
no needs, no attractions:
then your affairs
are under control.
You are a free man.

Easy is right. Begin right
and you are easy.
Continue easy and you are right.
The right way to go easy
is to forget the right way
and forget that the going is easy.
- Chuang Tzu
(Source: Whiskey River)

While in savasana (the relaxation pose that is also called the corpse pose and is done at the end of a yoga practice) yesterday, my mind drifted to Richard's last breath. Each time I breathed out, I began to think of Richard's last breath, and then for some reason I spontaneously remembered a book he had read in Vietnam and had encouraged me to read while he was there. It was called Johnny Got His Gun, an anti-war novel written by Dalton Trumbo. When I finished my yoga practice, I found this:

My grandfather served as a doctor in France in World War II. He was a witness to those images of war.

Then I found this about Johnny Got His Gun on Wikipedia:

"Joe Bonham, a young soldier serving in World War I, awakens in a hospital bed after being caught in the blast of an exploding artillery shell. He gradually realizes that he has lost his arms, legs, and all of his face (including his eyes, ears, teeth, and tongue), but that his mind functions perfectly, leaving him a prisoner in his own body.

Joe attempts suicide by suffocation, but finds that he had been given a tracheotomy which he can neither remove nor control. At first Joe wishes to die, but later decides that he desires to be placed in a glass box and toured around the country in order to show others the true horrors of war. After he successfully communicates with his doctors by banging his head on his pillow in Morse code (am's italics and am's note: The Morse code he signaled was S.O.S. or Help!!!), however, he realizes that neither desire will be granted; it is implied that he will live the rest of his natural life in his condition."

In Richard's last days, he was a prisoner in his body in a VA Hospital as a result of a brain stem stroke that occurred while he was drinking. He had been using drugs and alcohol since his return from Vietnam in 1970. The hospital staff had his hands tied down so that he could not remove the various tubes that were keeping him alive. When visitors were with him, his hands were untied. He had a tracheotomy tube and was on a respirator as well as a feeding tube. He had been unable to speak since the stroke seven months previously and had lost his limited ability to write in the previous week. He was blind in one eye. He was emaciated. He was only able to move with great effort but continued to try to remove tubes unless his hands were tied down. At one point, while I sat next to him, holding his hand, just before the last time I saw him alive and was about to leave, he lifted his head and began banging it against his pillow. Until yesterday, I would have said that Richard's last words were earlier that week, when he signaled "Thumbs up" to me, but now I am wondering if Richard was remembering Joe Bonham and signaling, "Help!!!"

This brought tears and dismay and confusion to me as well as healing. I felt close to Richard and could feel his presence and his words, "I love you. Always will." As I am writing this, I hear his words "Please take all my love and go on with your life."

This is part of my grieving and healing process. I know I am not alone. It is important for us to tell our stories related to war and its aftermath. I am sharing my experience, strength and hope for a future where there is an end to war. I hope that in telling my story, someone else will know that she or he is not alone.

"I believe in the impossible. You know that I do."
(Bob Dylan's lyrics, taken out of context. The words have a life of their own)

My thoughts are never far from veterans and their families. My thoughts are never far from all those who are still in the midst of war in Afghanistan.

Sabine's words keep coming to mind: "Live all you can: It's a mistake not to."

Update: Lots of synchronicity going on in the last 24 hours. Something of Richard's energy is here today with me, encouraging me to go on with my life, beginning with laughter. His heart is right.

I wasn't looking for the video below, but it came up when I went to YouTube after writing about war and grief and was trying to figure out why the video that I had embedded in my post was showing up as only a black rectangle.

Richard had a splendid sense of humor. He loved this movie that he watched with other veterans at the VA hospital in 2001 and wanted me to see it, too:

"When the heart is right
'for' and 'against' are forgotten."


Taradharma said...

oh, what a post. so much going on for you, am. I read the book in high school and it had a profound affect on me. what a horror, a nightmare. should be required reading for our country's "leaders."

the movie, too, is one of my favorites. I have the sound track.

am said...

There is an audiobook version at our local public library. I put it on hold. Don't know if I ever saw the movie. I've looked at some of the film clips on YouTube, and they don't look familiar to me.

It took me from 5 a.m. until about noon to write that post. Kept editing and adding, and so I am not sure which version you saw and commented on.

Thanks so much for reading my lengthy post.

Coffee Joe said...

I remember when I first heard that a friend had died in war. Everything seemed to stop... I thought when it happened the next time it would be easier... it never was. Every time it felt like the first and I expect the next time will also feel like the first. No worse, no better.

I remember thinking how unbelievable it all was. I just didn't want to believe it. His wife... his child... his mom... his dad... I just didn't know where my grief fit in. I had spent my youth in books and at some point it occurred to me that war had always been terrible. To see history repeated and confirmed... this was oddly and somewhat inexplicably comforting.

Anonymous said...

AM, this post reminds me of a poem I wrote 20 years ago... haven't thought of it in a very long while.

Last Breath

you become as inanimate
as the bed you lie upon
your breath leaves your body
and flies away like a fragile bird
fleeing your lungs and ribs
where for a lifetime it sang
all the songs of you

there it escaped your lips
uttering not a word
but whispering between your teeth
and aching dry gums
until it soared
out and further outward
finally abandoning this bed
held hand of weeping loved ones
oxygen tank, unformed nurses
muffled television voices,
x-ray rooms and labs
syringe, skin prick, and blood
in the place of last hope
before no hope

beyond this
your last breath soars
leaving us to look at each other
or out the window
into the darkened parking lot
hoping to catch a glimpse of it
fanning leaves on border trees
making its way
past this heartbreak of bodies

am said...

Coffee Joe -- Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I am moved by your comments. We do have a kinship with all those who have come before us and have experienced war.

robin andrea -- Thank you so much for posting your poem here. The imagery of the fragile bird singing throughout one's life and taking flight at the end is deeply resonant.

Sabine said...

There is so much here in this post I wish I could respond to. It has taken me many many years to accept that my mother has battled all her adult life with PTSD - but of course this was not known/defined at the time, people were meant to just get on with life after WWII. I wish she/we had the support and the compassion to accept and deal with it.
You have been through a lot and I admire your positive reflections of such sad memories.