Saturday, January 11, 2014

Lone Survivor

Tonight Kaitlin and I went to see Lone Survivor at the theatre on Boston Common. It was a sold out show, due in part to the buzz about the movie, but also, I believe, because of Mark Wahlberg. Hometown pride, for sure.

I had warned Kaitlin in advance that I was likely going to cry. A few weeks ago I watched a featurette on the film, in which family members of Marcus Luttrell's fallen comrades talked about how seeing the film was like getting their child back for those two hours. And I lost it.

So when the movie opened with footage of men going through seal training, trying (and sometimes failing) to push their bodies beyond that mental wall to endure physical strain, etc. I started to tear up. But I got myself under control. I did, however, cry through the footage at the end, personal moments with many of the fallen soldiers, but I'm pretty sure most people in the theatre were right there with me. I also started crying on the T on my ride home afterward, and unable to focus on the book I was trying to read I took deep breaths and watched the tremors in my hand. I shook through a lot of the film. I thought at first that I was just cold. Except, and I've never claimed to be quick on the uptake, it took me a good ten minutes to realize I wasn't actually cold at all. The theatre was really warm. My body was just reacting to what I was watching in the only way it knew how.

I do not have personal experience with the military. Both of my grandfathers were in it way back before my parents were born, as was probably the case with many men of that generation. My great uncle was a decorated soldier and was buried a few years ago in Arlington National Cemetary. But I never asked any of them about their experiences - it just seems so far removed from me, from now.

In the second grade, prompted by my teacher, I wrote a letter to my cousin who was in Desert Storm. I have no recollection of what I wrote to him or what he wrote back, but apparently it touched him to receive a letter while half a world away because nearly a decade and a half later he pulled me aside at a family gathering and presented me with his sargeant's pin. It seemed so trivial to me, writing a letter and sending it off, silly almost. I mean what could receiving a letter from a seven year old mean to a grown man fighting a war?

I have never held a gun. I have never been truly afraid or needed to be brave. I do not know if I could be brave, whether it's something inside all of us or maybe it's something only some people are born with. Perhaps it blossoms under certain circumstances. I have lived a privaledged and sheltered life where I have never truly faced hardship or life and death circumstances. I do not know what it means to be brave, to decide to put your life on the line for a cause or belief. And I realize now that I have never truly felt pain. That snowboarding accident in which I knocked myself unconscious, scraped my face, broke my nose, knocked out a tooth - if I'm being honest (and in the comfortable hindsight distance of seven years) was really just a dull ache. My head wasn't totally right for a bit and then I was on pain meds so it was nothing more than a papercut in comparison to what those men endured.

Watching what those men went through up on that mountain, in that helicopter, in that Afghani village - the bravery, the fear, the belief, the brotherhood - I guess I don't really understand it because I have never come close to any of that in my life. I am just in awe...

I call myself a writer, but I feel at a loss for words here. I am not sure I've fully digested what I saw, what it all was, what it meant to those involved, what it means to those who continue to serve and fight. I will likely still be thinking about this movie for years to come and that is a testament to the actors and to Peter Berg for directing in a way that affected me so deeply.

But to those that serve this country, I guess all I can really say is thank you. It's only two words and it doesn't do anything to make up for the danger you put yourself in in the name of protecting our country, but it's all I really know how to give.

So, thank you.


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