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Monday, 29 May 2017

Remembering


I write.  I like to write.

Sometimes I write for work, sometimes I write for myself and my own enjoyment.

But on the odd occasion more recently I write as a coping strategy, a personal little therapy to work through and make sense of bad events and sad memories.

Today I want to work through recent events.

There was a minute of silence on Friday.  It was at 11 o'clock in the morning and I was sat at my desk

The drilling and chipping around the station stopped. Men in dusty overalls paused in their labour. My colleague sat, arms resting in her lap, no victims of crime on the end of the phone or updates to crime enquiries to be tapped into the keyboard.

We sat in silence remembering the awful events in Manchester, to show our respect for those who had been taken from their families and friends too soon, too unfairly, too brutally.

We had done something similar few short weeks ago after the horrible attack in London.

That time my colleagues and I had stood in front of the station, heads bowed. We remembered, we showed our respect, we thought of our fallen colleague.

Whilst standing outside the police station and on Friday I felt angry at the perpetrators.

I felt overwhelming sympathy for the bereaved.

I felt sorrow and respect for the families, friends and first responders.

 I knew some of them will have to live with the psychological impact of those events; the illogical guilt, the "what if", the "if only".

I wanted to tell each of them I that it will hurt and the hurt can be utterly overwhelming, that there will be a hole in their lives and their guts that nothing will fill.

Especially I wanted to tell them it is OK to feel that way.  It really does suck, but it is OK to feel these things, and they don't need to beat you or define you. It is possible to live with those feelings and memories, and to go on to feel happiness again and make a good life; for the sake of those gone before us I truly believe we must.

This is not and could never be a comparison between my experiences and those touched by recent terrorist attacks.  My bad experiences do not compare, and I won't dwell on them here.  However I do want to share what a person I respect enormously shared with me.

I'm not sure why, but that is always where my mind goes in vivid detail during times of remembrance.

It was almost 9 years ago.

I was squatting in a metal walled work space with broken fire main pipes running up the wall to my left, sunlight coming through the doorway that was behind my right shoulder and a bunch of broken furniture in the corner. My back was against the wall, an internal bulkhead that was pleasantly cool.

Around the workspace seven or eight Iraqi Marines sat on the floor paying close attention to the man sat opposite me. He was Doc, and I remember vividly a part of his battlefield first aid lecture. He was explaining  what to consider when treating an eviscerated casualty.  Doc was there as a US Navy Independent Duty Corpsmen. They're good people.

We were two “coalition” personnel who went to the Iraqi accommodation block at one end of the al-Basra Oil Terminal, or ABOT as it was called, to occassionally deliver training.

The Iraqi living conditions on ABOT were not good.  The majority of the coalition staff were at the other end of ABOT about one kilometre away along a steel walkway. The coalition accommodation was better. We were 12 miles off the Iraqi coast.

At the time of this lecture there was a suicide bombing campaign centred on Baghdad being orchestrated by al-Qaeda.  I don't know how many bombs had been detonated, but fatalities and casualties were being counted in the hundreds.  Families of some of these Iraqi Marines lived in Baghdad and I've no doubt friends and relatives of the Iraqi Marines I was helping train had been lost to suicide bombs.

The marines listened with understandable concentration.  They were incredibly professional, proud and motivated.  They asked questions in broken English. What they were learning were skills they could expect to use for real.

Along with Doc I joined the Iraqi training officer in their canteen for a sweet tea.  We talked.

I can't remember the context exactly, but talking about the situation in Baghdad seems likely. My memory is that the training officer said something like.


"The sadness and fear that comes from these outrages does not have to paralyse you forever.  To live with that sadness and fear we must understand why we feel them. Then we must practice taking the sadness and fear  out of our memories. Then we will be able to live again."

Looking back to when I started working through my own issues, with the help of a couple of therapists and a bunch of SSRI meds, it seems to me I was being taken through the steps the Iraqi training officer was describing.

Survivors, families, friends and first responders will go on.  To those who have gone ahead I'd just like to say, "At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember you."



 PS - I would also ask that you drive safely, are kind to each other and respect each other's stuff.










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