I am sorry about the loss of your friend.
There are some things that I am thinking about saying to her and am a little unsure of some things.
I have spent a lot of time considering what might be of some use to her
and Greg's poem caused me to reflect
on how little we are able to determine those kind of things.
Don't try to think of anything to say. You can't pre-think what to say,
so don't waste your time trying. It isn't about you anyway.
And it's no time to try to impress people.
But I know that that's not what you meant.
I know that it's the knowing that you'll have to say something,
and knowing that there is really nothing that anybody can say.
Well, whatever you think of Hallmark card type sentiments generally,
there is really no other way to go at times like these. If you are at all
human, then some banal words will come to you at the right time,
and you'll mumble them, and just as awkwardly as everybody else has to.
And those will be the right words. There's no way around it.
There's no point in wasting your time trying to think of one.
If the woman were dependant on her brother financially,
or in some other way, then the human race has settled
on one specific formula. We say: "It'll be alright. Everything will be all right,"
and then try not to express on our face the superstitious fear that by
simply saying that we have actually committed ourselves to make everything all right.
But you should really ask Michael what to say.
He has had some training in bereavement counseling.
In any case, do not automatically discount the people
who have actually had experience in counseling for this
kind of thing. You may think that it's really too simple for
professional anything, the but the fact is that nobody
is born knowing what to say, what to do, how to behave,
how to feel about these things, and when the time comes
that you simply need a western hand to help you get across the road,
then you will suddenly realize that all the meditation
and Buddhist studies and everything else did not prepare
you for this particular moment in time.
Even the Dalai Lama cries.
Seeing my poem naked like that,
makes the spelling mistake in it stand out like a sore baboon's bottom.
Of course it was supposed to be "Chaplain" (as in "Chaplain of War")
and not "Chaplin" (as in "Charlie Chaplin").
wikipedia wrote:A chaplain is typically a priest, pastor, ordained deacon,
rabbi, imam or other member of the clergy serving a group of people
who are not organized as a mission or church, or who are unable to attend church
for various reasons; such as health, confinement, or military or civil duties;
lay chaplains are also found in other settings such as universities.
For example a chaplain is often attached to a military unit (often known as padre),
a private chapel, a ship, a prison, a hospital, a high school, college or especially
boarding school, even a parliamentary assembly and so on.
Though originally chaplain was a Christian term it is also now applied
to people in other religions filling the same role. In recent years many
non-ordained persons have received professional training in chaplaincy
and are now appointed as chaplains in schools, hospitals, universities,
prisons and elsewhere to work alongside or instead of ordained chaplains.
I had in mind, of course, a military chaplain.
And in that context "a commission" simply means "an assigned duty",
- not paid for above base salary.
I can not excuse the poem as juvenilia. But it's pretty close to that.
Like I said, it was a response to Eric Burdon's "Sky Pilot"
(his metaphor for "chaplain") which came out in 1968,
which was when I heard it, and wrote the poem.
You are right in saying "how little we are able to determine those kind of things."
It can't be easy for any commanding officer to have to write thousands of condolences.
But chaplains have reputation for being particularly callous.
Obviously because they believe in an after-life.
He smiles at the young soldiers / Tells them its all right
He mumbles a prayer and it ends with a smile
But he's still behind and he'll meditate
He feels good, with God you're never alone
He feels tired and he lays on his bed
Hopes the men will find courage in the words that he said
see also Phil Ochs' Chaplain Of The War
The whole point of my poem was the routine callousness of the chaplain types.
"I was his Chaplin / And I've been commissioned"
-- he didn't have to say that.
Or he didn't have to say it that way.
He could have said "It is my very sad duty to have to tell you...".
"To send you his ribbons / And to have you understand"
-- the tone here is as in: "I'll have you understand, woman, ..."
It is to preemptively respond with anger to her presumed anger.
The chaplain has had experience sending out these notices,
and he has either actually gotten some angry responses back,
or else he is sick and tired of "walking on egg shells" about
these mothers' feelings. Don't they know that their sons were
"soldiers of God"? "You must understand / The fate of your country
was in their young hands". Their cause was just. They didn't die
in vain. God approved. So there is really no need to get so upset
about it, woman. Get over yourself.
Would anyone at that point ask the dying man to clarify his words?
Is there any way to tell "cleaner bed" and "clean her bed" apart?
Jack, by saying that I assume you are either really crazy,
or else still sore about "Destination of hero's in the sky"
and trying to be sarcastic.
Well, in most barracks there is a public "hog board",
on which the residents pin up pictures of - whatever.
Mostly their girlfriends (or their claimed girlfriends,
sometimes believable, sometimes not.)
But the younger the recruit, the more likely he'll put up a picture of his dog.
Or his brother or sister or mother or father. (The brother or father
might be wearing a uniform of a past war.)
So "a picture of his sister" simply meant that the kid really was that young.
Our first close relationships are with our siblings. And sometimes we
actually like them. There is no implication of incest. But if you've seen
say "Born on the Forth of July" then you know how quickly they go from
being a child, with no experience of women, even just as friends,
beyond the sister, to being a paraplegic veteran, with no chance
whatsoever of ever having such an experience.
"a cleaner bed" = a body bag. Then a coffin.
It is curious, isn't it, how coffins are made to look like very clean, inviting, comfortable beds.
They are certainly cleaner than bivouac beds, which are just a sheet of plastic over mud.
"Tell mother I'm not really dead"
- I had several things in mind about this.
The kid is so young that he actually feels that by dying he is being bad,
and may even be punished for it.
I remember when I was about 6 I spent a day in the woods by myself.
A very large woods. I don't think I felt lost, I think I was just having
fun. But I was in there alone for about 10 hours, and when I finally
came out, late in the evening, it was to be greeted by a bunch of
frantic neighbors and police and my parents. And I certainly knew
that I was going to catch hell for that. Except that I didn't.
They just hugged me.
Well, kids don't know the difference. All that the kid knows
is that by dying he is hurting his mother, and that it's going to
make her cry. And that's the last thing in the world he ever wants to do.
"Tell mother I'm not really dead" = going to eternal life in heaven,
like the chaplain said. And whether the kid actually believes that
or not, he hopes his mother will, and that she'll find comfort in believing it.
(But it is astonishing how many kids raised in certain religions
think they want to die, not because they're unhappy, but just
so they can go to the wonderful heaven, which must be like
Disney Land, quicker.)
The line I'm proudest of, and the reason I still remember the poem at all,
is "We thought that was kind of odd."
Because of the meter and rhythm.
I think that the whole poem up to that point reads rather blandly,
without any abrupt disruption in the rhythm. I wanted it to sound
like a man of the cloth might sound when speaking in a monotonous
routine manner in short sentences.
And then comes that longest line ,
--"we thought that was kind of odd" --which completely disrupts
the rhythm. It reads and sounds totally awkward.
Up to that line the chaplain was speaking mechanically, with out thinking.
And then, at that point, he suddenly actually thinks about what he's talking about.
That the kid said "I'm just going to a cleaner bed, / Tell mother I'm not really dead"
really was odd. You have said so yourself. And although I explained what it meant
to the kid, I really wanted it to sound like something that someone might say
when they're delirious, or dying, or both. Something that doesn't make
any sense to anybody else. Something like "rosebud".
So that was odd. And then the chaplain suddenly
thinks about how the kid didn't cry. About how odd
that was, because he's so young. He should have cried.
In other words, for something like a second, the chaplain felt
a touch of humanity
. Vs just duty and theology.
And that's why that line broke the monotonous rhythm.
But it was just a feather touch.
And the chaplain suddenly realizes what a contretemps
it was to have actually said that to the mother!
How odd the kid was - should have been left as scuttlebutt
among the chaplains and officers.
Being a professional, he immediately recovers.
The rhythm is picked up where it was left off,
The vacuous platitudes resume without another hitch -
"But we liked the boy a lot. /And we send you all our heart / Mrs Owen."
Those last lines should be read very rapidly, as if they were the first words
spoken immediately after waking up from a reverie.
Or that anyway was what I had in mind by that poem
to Wilfred Owen's mother.
And now for some good rhymed couplets ....
Chaplain of the War - Phil Ochs
God bless the men who've learned to put their lives upon the line,
and God bless the men who've learned to sip the sacrificial wine,
God bless the men who'll murder in the service of the Lord;
Blessings from the Chaplain of the War.
Give thanks to the parents who taught them as a boy they must obey
Give thanks to the church who taught them how to pose and how to pray
Give thanks to the schools who taught them well what they are fighting for
Blessings from the Chaplain of the War.
I know it will be hard, your finger on the trigger might refrain
But someone's dealt the cards and the Bible says you're clearly not to blame
Just think about the past, all the Christian guns who've carried on before
with the Blessings of the Chaplain of the War.
The enemy is godless, the holy way is one they never knew
Forgive them as you kill them, believe me, they know not what they do
And the prisoners you take, you can try to lead them to the Christian shore
now Blessings from the Chaplain of the War.
Now you may find it strange that a man of peace is asking you to fight
But the church is known to change, embracing half the wrongs it hopes to right
I can't describe the times, I've wrestled with my conscience to the core
now Blessings from the Chaplain of the War.
If the worst comes to be and you crumble in the misty cloud of pain
I'll fall down to my knees and beg for every mercy on your name
And your soul will be safe for heaven knows the burdens that you bore
with the Blessings from the Chaplain of the War.
When you go for broke and the taking of a life may leave you lost
Rising from the smoke is the all-inspiring vision of the cross
Sending you the strength to show you that you can struggle more
with the blessings from the Chaplain of the War.
The commandments are torn we'll teach them when the victory fire glows
Now my collar is worn just above my military clothes
The religion of the flag, the servant of the savior and the sword
Now Blessings from the Chaplain of the War.