Every time I listen to veterans tell me their stories, the word sacred comes into my consciousness. For a long time, I did not know why. How could listening to stories of the worst of horrors make me feel that I was in a sacred time and place?
Because the stories shook me so, as the January 19 veteran had warned me they would, I had thought that after I finished writing the book, I would flee from war. But when I completed the writing last May 30, I found myself not yet ready to leave. I do not like to suffer, do not relish knowing these stories, but the honesty of veterans of wars from World War II to the current ones and the power of what they had shown me would not release me. So I reread War and Peace for the first time since I was a teenager. I read Matterhorn. And then the brilliant Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All. All the while, I wondered, “Is something wrong with me, that I do not feel ready to escape from the world of war?”
In part, what held me, as I came to understand, was that the books I read helped me further comprehend the stories that veterans had told me, and it helped me see the astonishing commonalities — regardless of the particular war — of veterans’ terror, shock, love, and longing.
And last Sunday, watching “The Man Who Will Come,” an Italian film about World War II, I am struck by the thought that the time and place of listening to veterans’ stories are sacred because they bring me to the core of life, which is composed of life and love and death, to human experience at its most intense. This brings me as close as I have ever been to the understanding that silence in the face of cruelty or violence in any form destroys the soul and to the vision of how love and honesty are what affirm the glory of life.