The End of War

This is a repost of a chapter from one of my short stories.  It wasn’t very popular as far as likes, comments or views. It seems counter intuitive to beat that old dead horse again here.  I replay it because much is said about post traumatic stress disorder in service members but it’s not well understood by the public.  It can manifest years after the event as the memories suddenly drift in like a cold breeze through a forgotten open door.  Internal dialog of scenes long forgotten play out when and wherever they will – triggered by a thought, sound, a vision, a taste or smell.

The metaphor in this short scene speaks of the timelessness of the tragedy of man’s obsession with conflict and conquest.  We destroy in the name of religion, duty, honor and country yet love with all our heart and pray for salvation from that which we know we must do.  In the end, the awful price is tallied in terms of killed, wounded, equipment, property, and land destroyed.  But the cost also demands a permanent place in the minds of those that, for whatever reason, found themselves on the Devil’s playground consumed by a call to arms or simply a witness who had the misfortune to live in the riptides of war.  The cost is never fully paid because the end of war heralds the moment in history before the start of another.


The End of War

The Church

Only the dead have seen the end of war – Plato

I sat in the center of the sanctuary of an old church built in the Middle Ages surrounded by the crypts of knights, bishops, kings, and their ladies.  The organist played for a woman practicing for the next day’s service.  The great steam organ and pristine voice filled the volume of the church with Latin words and music melded into one harmonious sound.  I felt a great peace come over me as I fixated on the back of Sophie’s neck.  She knelt at the altar, deep in prayer.  We stopped often in the old churches of Europe.  She prayed in each for forgiveness of unspoken deeds in her past and to receive God’s grace.  Sophie prayed most for my soul to return to me and that I would turn away from my life consumed by violence and death.

I marveled at the symmetry of her body.  Her clothing hung loose on her in mild pastels and dark colors.  Still, Sophie’s athletic shape and long silken black hair accentuated the beauty of her features so modestly covered.  Her hands and solemn face reflected the shafts of colored light radiating through the ancient stained glass high above the altar.  The shadow of the crucifix lay on the stone floor, skewed in front of her.

I turned for a moment and glanced at the crypt of some renowned knight, his likeness lay atop the crypt adorned in his armor, his sword held in his hands at the position of present arms, the visor opened, revealing a fierce and stony face.

Music and song gave way to shouts of men and the cacophony of battle.  Bright flashes, ear-splitting cracks of high explosives, and the crushing shockwave from tank fire poured in from all directions.  Small arms fire rained in on an up-armored Hummer like hail blowing against a window pane in a spring storm.  The Gunner atop the Hummer was screaming obscenities and firing his weapon – hot brass cascaded inside the vehicle as the sounds, smells, and sights of battle raged.  The radio was barking, spitting, crackling with orders, requests, reports, and casualties.  The language of war was powerful and all-consuming.

The organ was quiet.  God’s siren flipped through sheets of music and whispered to the organist.  Sophie’s prayer concluded and she walked back to sit with me.  A beautiful calm enveloped her.  She sat down on the wooden pew next to me, her hand high on my thigh, the touch so light it’s almost as if she wasn’t there.  She leaned in playfully and asked in German if I was bored.  “I’m never bored with you or God.”

The organ began again, followed by the spiritual melody that drifted to the far ends of the sanctuary and echoed a hollow sound.  I sat transfixed on the Altar, likely changed little in the hundreds of years since it was first blessed and put into service.  In the seams of the great organ’s throaty notes and the breaths of the pitched soprano voice, I heard the screams of generations plagued by the avarice of rulers and those loyal to the divine right of Kings and Queens.

We stood to leave as the music drifted off with a last long note like the dying breath of those I left frozen in their last moment of life.  I gazed at the knight’s stony face.  He rested peacefully as the shadow of the crucifix edged closer to the spot where Sophie earlier asked God to hear her prayer.  As we walked out, the radio crackled again, requesting medical evacuation for the dead and dying.

13 comments

  1. Thank you for the repost and your introductory descriptions of it. Helps to provide a window to this short story. Someone once told me a beautiful soul is created from experiences not unlike gemstones being crafted through fire. Stories which provide insights may bring value unexpectedly. Wishing you & your family happy holidays, D!

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    • Thank you very much K! You have eloquently summarized the central theme to the story which describes the transition through the crucible of life to learn of the true value of life and life’s experiences.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you very much Deb! I bet you could paint that. What I find remarkable is how powerful the images are in my mind. Your description is the image without the words and to me it becomes the emotions that linger in the shadows of a life in turmoil at the time of the story.

      Liked by 1 person

      • There is a broader audience who may benefit from. My first thought is the people who love someone with PTSD. There are so many men and women coming home with PTSD, not receiving short or long term treatment. The people who love them can learn some ideas to help them start the journey.
        Thank you for opening yourself up and giving to others.
        M

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Em, Thank you so much for your kind words and insights. For some, it is the quiet peaceful moments when the barriers dissolve and the floodgates burst. I have always felt connected to that part of humanity that has forever chased the sounds of battle. I will never forget the pull of the Knight’s story whose crypt I visited. The sculptor that carved the Knight’s fierce gaze caught the look I’ve seen countless times on faces beside me and opposite me. It’s the same look my avatar holds. Now, I can live in quiet moments, each one a precious gift, treasured and grieved when past. This short chapter originally attempted to portray the differences between two people. One, representing peace, reverence, and tied to the greatest attributes of humanity while the other lives in mankind’s dark attributes and yearns for the light shining so brightly in the other. I felt many things writing this and it still connects me to a vivid past.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Rand/Daniel you probably have a different audience here than you did with Willy Nilly — so you might have found the perfect forum. While i am not a veteran, i can relate to PTSD. I think anyone who lived through enough years of abuse might end up with similar issues. The randomness that soldiers face in their fight to stay alive is different from the more exacting nature of abuse. Both are traumatizing. I’m not diminishing either situation.
    I look forward to reading your story during a break at work today — but have to get ready for the office now.
    Huge hugs my friend. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Teagan! Yes, there is much woven in this small tapestry of love and conflict. Too often the conflict overshadows the greatest good between two people. Those visions and internal dialog of PTSD can become a way of life if not carefully unwound from our heart, mind, and spirit. The correct forum is important to see the details of the complex picture woven into the tale. Enjoy your day 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. It is inadequate to say that this post is beautiful because the kind of chaos and pain you describe surging at random times, therefore leaving the mind and soul battered, is nothing short of horrendous.
    The serenity of the setting, the disruption of time-space and the pace of the narrative drives home the point of the introductory quote.
    There are neither words nor actions that can erase the nightmare of living through hell.
    You show that.
    With dignity and quiet courage.
    Thank you for reposting this, for doing what you can to bring awareness to the oblivious and for surviving one moment at a time.
    Walking in beauty.

    Liked by 3 people

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