War Poet.ca - A CFAP Project by Suzanne Steele

alive again

a phone call from maman the other day, Suzanne, I was clearing out papers getting ready for the workmen to come do some things and guess what I found?

she’d found a cache of hard copy emails she thought she’d thrown out and had deleted on her computer. they were from our family’s 26 year old C who went missing at sea with her partner almost 4 years ago (and oh God how part of us hopes they’re on a desert island somewhere, though we know better).

it’s wonderful to read them. emails from Germany, emails from Canada. when you come over I’ll let you read them

so this morning chez maman, strong coffee at hand, I lay in bed and read letters from my beloved niece. and what struck me was how alive she is in her words. how excited about her life, how WELL she was living her life. out there in the world. working at a job she loved. travelling to Europe for her job. writing (she was a beautiful writer). doing fun things (dancing, organizing fun events, celebrating). I read the letters and smiled. my heart wasn’t filled with regret and sadness, just gratefulness that we had this little bonus, a voice so alive from one of our beloved, lost kin.

a correspondent, a mother of one of our soldiers who didn’t come home, called me the other day to chat. we’ve never met, I didn’t know her son, but somehow we were connected and continue to be. (and it’s one of the surprises of this work how many amazing people have come into my life).

we got talking and she told me that this summer she asked her son’s fiance for a copy of his diaries from A’stan. she said it was so wonderful to read them, hear his voice again, fresh. she said it was especially wonderful to read about how much he loved his mom and dad. and how much he cared for his men.

whenever I was with the troops I always encouraged them to write. diaries. letters. poetry.

somewhere along the way I met a burnt out case, someone from a special trade. so special I didn’t even know his name nor did I want to. in front of the boys he was all go, go, go. but when we were alone, he stretched out on his army cot, me on mine, he told me how done he was. how filled with hatred. fatigue. self-loathing. his eyes were dead as cracked saucers in a thrift shop.

write I said. even if it’s just emails to yourself. open a gmail account. name it, Ihatethisf’ingwar@gmail.com or whatever. then write everything in your mind, your heart. swear. cry. rage. just get it out of you. nobody has to ever read it. YOU don’t have to read it. not now. not in a year’s time. not ever.

but the thing is, someday your grandchildren might want to read it. it will fill in the blanks about you.

last summer I met someone whose grandfather was a medic with the Loyal Eddies in WWI. eyewitness to the big battles. a Major. after the war he moved to Wainwright and became the camp doctor as did his son. the Major kept careful diaries from his war. his grandson has scanned them and wants to find a home for them and I told him I’d try and put him in touch with someone.

as a gift, I was given a copy of the diaries on a CD. what an amazing treasure. chilling. as were the photos of the young WWI officer. I recognized that stare. that PTSD stare. wondered how he coped for the rest of his life.

but even though the diaries contained pain, they contained love. his love for his wife and son clearly stated. and oh what a gift.

I’ve had thousands and thousands of emails from people serving or their families. I’ve had emails of poetry. a few stand out. one in particular, that from a Role 3 medic. pure voice.

the medic pressed SEND, then immediately regretted it. I reassured the medic I’d never publish what was written, but urged the medic to keep writing for himself. email it to an account. open it in 10 years time. or not. print it off. mail it to the National War Museum Archives anonymously. be a voice. let your voice from that terrible time live.

another read me his poetry. words from the war in his head. he’d never written poetry in his life. he sat up in bed. grabbed his notebook (they all have notebooks and pens even when they’re on leave!) and read it to me. it was brilliant. makes me look the amateur that I am. I urged him to not throw it out.

today, four years after her presumed death, I’m so grateful to read my beloved niece’s words this morning. because with her words, she’s still so very much alive.
thank heavens maman hangs on to things for our big family. thank heavens.

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The page you're reading contains a single diary entry entitled alive again. It was posted here on September 22, 2011.


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