I recently read The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. It’s a book that’s been around for a while and although I kept meaning to read it, it somehow kept getting pushed to the bottom of my list. Now I can say with confidence that it’s among my favorites and I wish everyone would read it.
Tim O’Brien was drafted into the Vietnam War and he wrote The Things They Carried based on his experiences before, during and after his tour of duty. He plays with fiction in such a way that as I was reading it I kept finding myself confused as to whether I was reading fiction or nonfiction or some weird hybrid of both, which I think was O’Brien’s whole point. It was the perfect example of fiction being used to tell the truth, and a reminder that truth is powerful, regardless of how it’s expressed. This is good stuff for a struggling writer to remember.
Today I’m working on my own piece of fiction, but I’m distracted. I keep thinking about my nephew Dan, who’s spent the last year of his life in Afghanistan. This, his third (or is it his fourth?) tour of duty, is coming to a close and soon he’ll be back in Colorado. I keep checking Facebook to see if he’s updated his status to say that he’s on his way, but so far he’s just said, “1 step closer.” It’s the anticipation of his leaving the country that’s making it hard for me to focus on anything else.
I don’t know the things that Dan will be bringing home with him from the war—the images and people and experiences he’ll carry with him for the rest of his life, but I do know that a person can’t be sent to war and come out of it unchanged.
Some things about Dan are unchanging though. For as long as I’ve known him (which is his whole life,) he’s had an unfaltering faith in God. He’s been wise beyond his years. Kindness is something he’s never had to work at—it comes naturally to him, and his experiences, both good and bad, have given him the ability to truly empathize with others. He’s also got a great sense of adventure. These unchanging things that he’s had with him since he was a boy will help him carry anything that might feel too heavy.
So as I’m here at home, on the comfort of my couch, struggling to write fiction, I’m thinking about Dan, who’s had a long, rough year in a hostile land. He’s seen things that I’ll never see. He’s lost friends in ways that I never will. I hope he knows that I’m thankful that he went, thankful that he served, but mostly I’m thankful that he’ll be home soon. Today, nothing feels more important than that.