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Deep, Visceral Memories

November 15, 2010

While loading a second truckload of books for recycling last week and swinging a particularly heavy box toward the truck I had one of those deep, visceral memories.

I knew in the last instant that my hand would not clear the tailgate. I could feel it through my whole body. That feeling turned out to be worse than the actual contact. My left hand hit the tailgate but not badly. Not even a bruise.

The moment of wincing anticipation arose because of an event about 25 years ago.

It was at a ranch far up CR 140. We were making a temporary corral for branding and cutting. I pushed the wobbly end of a stock panel out of the way and proceeded to pound in another t-post.

The top of the t-post drifted. The wobbly end of the panel wobbled back. With all my might, I drove the post-pounder down as the panel swung back under my hand.

A friend stood nearby. He made a face saying he understood well what happened and said, “That’s the kind of thing you don’t even want to look at.”

But I carefully removed my glove. My hand was a mess, but it was superficial damage. I’d raked the back of my hand over the corner of the panel. Nothing broken, nothing but torn skin and swelling.

The thought of the panel being a fraction of a inch closer made me weak. By the end of the day my hand ached and I couldn’t close it.

I still have a visceral response to that event and, evidently, events like it. I also have a visceral response to Rocky Mountain “oysters.”

For the rest of that day, two dogs stood nearby quivering with anticipation as calves were cut and oysters tossed their way. Not one oyster hit the ground.

After catching the tailgate with my hand, I was aware of the edge with every subsequent box of books and avoided it with more exaggeration than necessary, such is the nature of fear.

I couldn’t help but think of this on the occasion of Veterans Day, because what do we ask of the men and women we send into battle?

Of the ones who survive, we ask them to carry with them for the rest of their lives a thousand visceral responses as deeply remembered as my little mishap but worse in every way.

Human beings—all beings—accumulate these experiences in everyday life from accidents, crimes, natural disasters, unhappy circumstances of all kinds. It’s incredible, really, that we don’t find this enough, that we are willing to increase it a thousand-fold by making war.

When we give thanks on Veterans Day, it feels to me as if it should be tinged less with patriotic pride and more with apology. Any one of us may be blameless, but collectively our decisions send our fellow citizens to war.

It’s not as if we need the challenge of war to test our mettle. Count all the disasters on the planet, outside of war, since 2001. Life is hard enough, and the world is getting smaller.

I actually don’t harbor any hope of peace, although I dream of less war. It seems possible to step in that direction.

Anyway, if you’re wondering about the books, I was loading the unsold books left over from the book sale. This time, instead of the landfill, they went to Angel of Shavano Recycling. That’s a step in a good direction.

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