Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Things They Carried: A Hump Day Hmm-er Double Header

Hump Day Hmm

The things they carried were largely determined by necessity.

What they carried was partly a function of rank, partly of field specialty.

They carried catch-as-catch-can.

What they carried varied by mission.

If a mission seemed especially hazardous, or if it involved a place they knew to be bad, they carried everything they could.

On ambush, or other night missions, they carried peculiar odds and ends.

The things they carried were determined to some extent by superstition.

Often, they carried each other, the wounded or weak.

For the most part they carried themselves with poise, a kind of dignity. Now and then, however, there were times of panic, when they squealed or wanted to squeal but couldn't, when they twitched and made moaning sounds and covered their heads and said Dear Jesus and flopped around on the earth and fired their weapons blindly and cringed and sobbed and begged for the noise to stop and went wild and made stupid promises to themselves and to God and to their mothers and fathers, hoping not to die.

They carried the sky.

They carried their own lives.

The above are all quotes from Tim O'Brien's book, The Things They Carried. When I first began to ponder last week's Hump Day Hmm-er, this book immediately came to mind. I flipped through the book looking for a quote--one quote--to use and so many of O'Brien's sentences seemed to be metaphors for Life. In my Life backpack, I carry with me the basic necessities: faith, family, friends. I carry some things according to my specialty/rank of motherhood. I carry odds and ends, peculiar to some, that I have picked up along the way (fanatic faith in Myers-Briggs Temperament theory, just to name one).

Like the young men, O'Brien describes, I hope I carry myself with poise and dignity, at least some of the time. I have known those moments of panic, though, when I have cried out to God and flopped on my bed (instead of the earth) and made moaning sounds.

I realized along the way that the soldier metaphor is imperfect, though, as I thought about all the things in life you have to let go. (Coincidentally, this week's roundtable topic was just that: how do you let it go?) And while O'Brien says that the soldiers "would often discard things along the route of march," it isn't always so easy to discard our emotional baggage, as necessary as it might be to our welfare.

If only it were.

Even when we manage, through perseverance and hard work, to overcome a major obstacle in life, you still carry the memories of it. It may still determine choices you make. I'm not sure it ever truly leaves you.

Perhaps then, it becomes more about finding a way reduce its size and weight enough so that you can pack it in with everything else you need and want to carry with you, leaving you free to continue your journey in Life.


Snoskred said...

I have not read this book but it sounds like one to add to the must read list.

I do not think it ever leaves you either, not truly. Those scars you get from climbing over such obstacles never quite heal the same way. Would we want them to, because those are some of the important lessons we learn? Should we wear those battle scars with pride? I wish all veterans felt they could. It's not their fault that they had to do their job and follow orders.

Snoskred - has a new home at -

Julie Pippert said...

Nice tie up!

I don't think the experiences---especially big ones---leave you.

I do truly believe we are shaped by where we came from, where we've been, and what we found and experienced while there.

I also truly believe we need to keep open that perhaps that shape is no longer valid for us, or was not quite remain pliable.

I think it's okay to carry these things as shape, as long as you keep that pliability, and it only gets heavy when you weight it with dense judgment and emotion.


I enjoyed this. :)

kaliroz said...

I think your last graph is the key. Finding a way to condense it all so we don't buckle under.

That book is great. I had to dissect in my freshman comp class years ago.

Emily said...

Yes -- it is about condensing. Think about going to the gym for a swim. I think those nice little towels that wring dry miraculously are much nicer to carry around all day than a soggy beach towel.

That's how I hope to treat my baggage. Your last paragraph hit the nail on the head.

Anonymous said...

Did you ever read All Quiet on the Western Front? Wonderful exploration of emotional baggage wrought by war.

Mary-LUE said...

Snoskred - The book is definitely a must, at least in my book. There is a long story about how I came to read it, but I have never regretted it.

O'Brien also talks about the difference between Story Truth and Happening Truth. I happened to read it right after the whole Jame Frey brouhaha. It was very timely.

Julie - I'm glad you enjoyed this and thank you for linking it up in your post today! I think pliability is a good word to describe what we need to be.

Kaliroz - I'm glad to know someone else who has read the book. I'm excited that my son will read it when he gets to his junior lit. in high school. Because my uncle served in Vietnam, I think it will give Colin a different perspective.

Emily - I like those towels! What a perfect metaphor.

Riley - I think I was supposed to read All Quiet but never did. I really should, or rather let me say, I would like to one day.

Sally said...

Hi Mary - Terri sent me (LOL). I'm the "other" Tip of the Iceberg. Nice blog you've got here. I like the banner and your writing is very good. You sound like an interesting lady.