Reading: A Room of One's Own and it's magical. I'm taking my time to note the beautiful prose and still-relevant, century-old ideas.
Just Read: Redeployment, by Phil Klay. This will be my main topic, because it has definitely stuck with me.
Most of the stories in Redeployment had me Googling acronyms, feeling like I was learning a whole new language: military-speak. (I am always fascinated by the lingo of lived experience, and the way we create whole dialects with people who are part of the same sub-group, be it military or medical.) I liked the multiple points of view, and the honest assessment of how military service gets fetishized. I also found it refreshing that Klay focused far less on knocking or politicizing than simply exploring the experience. The book provides a rare acknowledgement of individuality within the ultimate of impersonal behemoths: the military. This is how it is for one person, this is how it is for another. This is what human beings do and undergo and survive. It's amazing what human beings can withstand - and perpetrate, for that matter.
The personal details in the collection are the most powerful and the most painful. The story of a chaplain trying to make sense of his job delivers a surprisingly great sermon about the universality of suffering - not an easy feat on such a worn-out topic. In another story, a mortuary worker asks a soldier if he'll help him out by taking his wedding ring off, wearing it with his dog tags so that he might have to pry the ring off of one less soldier. On so many levels: ow.
Klay's collection also helps us understand the alienation that can occur after living a life of stark contrast with the prevailing ideas of "normalcy," then being dropped abruptly back into it. The book provides a startling reminder that we can walk around without fear - strolling in parks, running errands - while the majority of people living Iraq and Afghanistan cannot. Most of us in the west take basic security for granted, but it's essential to recognize the rarity of that experience, and what it costs.
Meaning and mortality are, understandably, undercurrents running through the entire collection. People have been looking to die well - or at least, not in vain - for as long as death has existed. This concept becomes even more crystallized in war, particularly the recent ones that have seemed so mutable and misguided. The fifteenth-century Ars Moriendi text taught Christians 'how to die well' in a religious context; more recently, A Lion In Winter (and West Wing) reminded people of the same concepts in a political framework. That famous exchange popped into my head as I was reading Redeployment:
"Why you chivalric fool, as if the way one fell down mattered."
"When the fall is all there is, it matters."
Does it? The question resonates throughout Klay's stories about humans grappling with that question, and he does not resort to easy answers. I thank him for this service.