Ghosts And Scars

The ghosts of his past pursued him down through the decades of his life. In truth, they were always just behind him, pursuing him, from before the great adventure, which for a time only served to obscure their presence.

Originally posted January 9, 2017.

Dedicated to “Chris.”

The good news is that the pain will come to an end.

The Test

February 28, 2014, came and went without fanfare nor incident.

There’s nothing special about that date…except that it marks the 41st anniversary of the passing of a farm boyfrom Cottam, Ontario.

He was not special nor exceptional; just another man struggling occasionally to make his way through life, rarely thinking of the end; just getting today done; whatever it took; as dictated by his heritage.  And, occasionally, a struggle it was, being orphaned beforehis teens, living with the extended family or in the orphanage, later onworking the farms in lower Ontario.  Then, came the great adventure,wherein he and his peers lined up before dawn at the local army recruitingstation the day after the Wehrmacht invaded Poland.

Adventure, being the confirmation of life, is the great motivator of every young man; and Harry was not immune to the allure of adventure.  So, he joined the Essex Scottish Regiment, and the greatadventure began.

Like all great adventures, events exerted their inexorable control over the participants, who could merely react; and “endeavor to persevere.”

So, one morning in August 1942, Harry found himself under fire on the beach fronting Dieppe, France; a beach where on that day, the Essex Scottish Regiment was sorely tested; a test by which the Regiment came to its everlasting glory.

Harry and so many others could only endeavor to persevere; something they did that day, and then for the next two and a half years as “guests of the Wehrmacht” in various camps all over occupied Europe.  Their travails included executing their soldiers’ duty as prisoners of war, enduring the resultant punishments, and the near starvationshared with the German population in the final months of the war.

But, like all adventures, this came to a conclusion.  But, not the end most folks assume; as it was only interlude.

Nonetheless, the farm boy returned home as something else, tested to the limits; something that could never return to innocence; and something that was done with adventures.  Testing has that effect: one can never go home again. I’ve often thought of what went through his mind in his later years.  We were never close, so he never shared those thoughts.  But, having had my own great adventure, at a different time, and a different part of the world, I now know the nature of his thoughts.  Call it kindred knowledge.

His Ghosts

The ghosts of his past pursued him down through the decades of his life.  In truth, they were always just behind him, pursuing him, from before the great adventure, which for a time only served to obscure their presence.  As long as he continued to run, he stayed ahead and they did not overtake him.  Those great adventures often serve to help us run faster.

Being pursued by ghosts is a terrible thing, as it shapes everything one does, although one does not necessarily realize that fact.  One tends to attribute decisions to external events and factors, rather than face the fact that decisions are based on the running itself. That continual running comes at a very high cost, both to the runner and those around him.

That cost of running was high for Harry: the woman who bore his children could not keep apace, and the marriage came apart after twenty years.  And, the casualties and suffering were great: he also lost his four children as a result of all that running.

But, towards his end, Harry remarried a woman, who having persevered her own travails, motivated him to deal with his ghosts; and they started a new life.

The Fight

I do not know the hows and wherefores of Harry’s victory over his ghosts.  But, having some small experience in this context, I think he did the following…

At some point, being weary of the run, and no longer willing to endure the cost of running, he came to a decision to confront his ghosts; to confront them and slay them.

Slay them, as in putting them to death.

So, I suspect he stopped running, stood up tall, turned around and took a stance, and confronted them as they overtook him.

In that event, standing there, looking back over the decades of his life, confronting them as they closed on him from the decades of his past, he’d have to deal with each and every ghost directly, “in single combat” as they say.  Such a fight is very personal: no one else can help or be present.  And, in a larger but more subtle sense, no one else should help or be present.  It was his fight; and his alone.  He would win it; or, he would lose it.

But, slay them he did.  His ghosts were now dead.  He was now free from pursuit, and he got on with the business of living his life with his new wife.

Acting Forward

I do not know what he felt, but I can surmise.

After the fact, the really good thing about slaying one’s ghosts is that in addition to that resigned acceptance of completing an immensely distasteful task, one is also left with the fond memories of persevering in that battle; of conquering those adversaries that have delivered so much misery; of closing the door on such a destructive part of one’s life; and that in itself enables moving on to better things.

Harry began to live life in earnest; looking forward, and better yet, acting forward.  He and his new wife were enjoying life, more than he ever did in the past.  Things were looking up.

The Cost

Harry slew his ghosts later in life, rather than earlier.  This delay, this postponement, resulted in a cost that manifested itself as an insidious disease that had developed over years, without indications, and caught Harry suddenly, and without warning.  The fear, the turmoil, the anxiety all contributed to years of stress; and that caught up with him.

On February 28, 1973, Harry passed away; at age 54.  The farm boy came home.

Our Scars

As I look back down through the decades of my life, I’ve come to the conclusion, whether correct or not, that we spawn our own, personal ghosts; the product of our view and reaction to the world, and the vicissitudes of life affecting us personally.  In a sense, those ghosts are open wounds that fester and do not heal; always open, always sore; always weeping; always present, as long as the ghosts exist.

When we slay our ghosts, we allow the wounds to heal.

Harry finally allowed his wounds to heal, and those wounds were transformed into scars; scars being the evidence of wounds that have healed.

That’s when the pain ends and healing is complete: when the scars form.

From this perspective, one is always a better man for his scars.

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