Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Letter To This American Life


Sometimes you need to just take the time. 

I have very little time for reading, even less it seems, for writing. But a recent episode of This American Life was so important to me I forced myself to sit down and write a letter. My mom always reminds me that we fill our days with urgent, unimportant things instead of important, non-urgent things. If you haven't heard the podcast episode, "Once More, With Feeling" especially act two. 
I received a reply today which gave me almost as many gifts as the episode itself. I'll post it later.

I am a huge fan and have been a dedicated listener for years. I treasure many episodes and hold some very close to my heart, but this is the first time I have been so profoundly moved by an episode that I feel the need to write the show.

I don't know how to illustrate my gratitude in a way that gives justice to the insight given to me by this episode.

I have two retired infantry soldiers for brothers. One has done over 10 tours of duty, initially as a mine disarmer and then as a post-blast forensics specialist. He has served with NATO, the UN and the Canadian military in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Cyprus, Yugoslavia, Rwanda, and many places he could never tell us about.

I listened to Once More With Feeling this week while driving to one of the communities in northern Saskatchewan that I work in. It's a long and lonely drive. Several hundred kilometers with no cell reception and it's -35 Celsius right now. I drive with a satellite phone in case of a breakdown. It's dark too, so the podcast keeps me awake and keeps me company.

When it got to Act 2 I was listening with intrigue as I know my brother struggles with PTSD and integrating with normal society now that he's retired. I know that when he got his first holiday in Greece after a few months in Afghanistan he just sat on the beach and didn't speak at all for several days. I know my sister in law has found him sobbing in their closet. I know he vomited once while crossing the lawn of a friend's house in Ottawa because a flashback made him think he was walking, without care or attention, across a minefield.

I drink scotch with him when I visit and he tells me some stories, which my sister in law knows verbatim. And some mornings she'll say, "I never heard that one from last night before". I know he told a story once at a work Christmas party about shooting an Afghan soldier in battle which left everyone speechless and uncomfortable.

As Michael Pitre spoke, it was like I was finally able to see and understand a tiny fraction more of my brother's struggles and his coping strategies in civilian life. Some of what Mr. Pitre said seemed so obvious once he described it, I wondered why I hadn't understood, or picked up on those patterns in my brother before. So there I was, driving and crying and finally understanding things about someone who is so close to me but so hard to get close to on many levels.

My brother is getting counselling now, and his wife tells me he's getting better and better, slowly. But I still feel so much fear and sadness when I hear stories of Vet's who commit suicide or harm others once they are home.

It was such a powerful and important piece for those of us living with friends and family struggling with re-integration. It wasn't exploitative, or indulgent, or sensationalized. It was a beautiful, succinct snapshot.

I am deeply grateful for this episode, and for all the hard work that the staff at TAL put into their work every day. You may never realize how far reaching, truly valuable and life changing the work you do can be for listeners. I hope this shines a little light on that reality for you.

Thank you again.

Sincerely...

3 comments:

Just Me said...

this is beautiful. I hope their response was good.

Albinoblackbear said...

Their response was AMAZING. It was...well..just unreal.

Albinoblackbear said...

I was planning to publish the response but felt it might be seen as a violation of a private exchange (is there such a thing as a private exchange anymore??) The gist of it was that the note I sent was a very timely affirmation which was much needed. It was so touching. Funny when a brief email interaction with a stranger over such intimate and personal matters can become so powerful and heart exploding. It also showed me that even professionals can have self doubt and can be unaware of the beautiful ripples they send into the world.