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To Live and Die in Two Worlds

15 Nov

The other night we watched this documentary, which had just arrived from our Netflix queue. I had a read a review of the show in the New York Times and added it without much thought. Ironically, the disc arrived just in time for Veterans Day, so we watched it that night, fully expecting to be enraged at the cost of this war. What I didn’t expect was to be turned on to a new concept that strikes right to the heart of my current ache. I can’t call it a paradigm shift, but my eyes have definitely been opened to another possibility.

The concept of an Alive Day is this: For a person severely wounded in combat it’s a day as significant as his or her birthday; as it represents the day he “should have” died, but didn’t. The psychological benefit is that it frames that day in positive celebration. It emphasizes the survival and not the brink of death, the recovery and not the wound.

What is different about this war, and perhaps why it is easier to ignore than the historical accounts of the World Wars and Vietnam lead me to believe they were (I wasn’t alive, so I’m only guessing that they were all-encompassing), is that 90% of the injured Iraq War veterans survive their wounds. That means that 3800+ men and women who have been killed in action represent only 5 to 10% of the people who would have died in previous wars.

Our technology makes it possible for these men and women to survive. Through the various stories told in the film, however, we learn that survival doesn’t mean you come back whole. And it’s that wholeness, or rather the lack of wholeness (holeness, perhaps?), with which I identified so strongly. Continue reading