Today a veteran friend of mine resigned from his job. He has been struggling greatly with the symptoms of PTSD and has walked farther and farther from stability. He says that he doesn’t know what to do. I look around and all of us in and around him don’t know how to help him. He is receiving treatment but doesn’t seem to be getting better, and now he is pulling farther away from people. I know that I for one am going to do what I can to help him, but I also know that I can’t share his pain and suffering. I am and have been supportive, but I also know that I am fragile enough right now that there is only so much stress outside of myself that I can take on, and that thought hurts to admit. In the military it is ground in to the marrow that you never leave a servicemen behind. So why does it feel like we are not doing enough for my friend? Why do I feel guilty that I can barely handle my own job and my family and can’t take on more?
When I was in infantry school, I was assigned to Camp Horno on Pendleton. My fire team had a Marine that came to all of us one day away from everyone else and revealed that he had injured his knee. He had gone to the doc and was told that if he couldn’t train that there was a good bet that he would get medically discharged. He asked for our help. He was able to hump in a straight line over even ground well-enough, but with his pack and combat load, going up hills especially was painful and near impossible. As a team we decided to help. We spread-loaded his gear across all of us and it became our practice upon movement that whenever there was an incline that two of us would race up and carry him up and he would become our 12 0’clock security. Down hill he would grab a shoulder and we would move out, rotating in series. It was an interesting thing to see and learning to move tactically with that set-up caused us some difficulty. But it was worth it to us, to me. My brother Marine had asked for help. I’m going to say no? Contrast that with another member of my platoon who had great difficulty in moving in urban terrain with gear and combat load. A basic requirement of infantry training is jumping up to a roof line and pulling yourself up to the position where your team can help get you across or up. But the majority has to be done by your own upper body strength. This guy would never ask for help. We offered to workout with him on weekends and evenings but he refused. We walked away because he would not ask for help or do anything to help himself. Ultimately, he would have been a liability to our platoon.
Now, you might ask the question, what is the difference between the two Marines? The first asked for help. He was certainly compromised but he also worked his rear off in other ways to help take up his slack. He never quit, and I respect him for his courage. Once he was in the fleet and healed, he would take that resolve and would be an asset to his Marine unit. The second never tried. He couldn’t meet the minimum requirements and did nothing to help himself or get help for himself. He quit on himself and he quit on our platoon, and frankly, someone who can’t do the basic infantry skills is a danger to himself and those around him.
So, how do I resolve my feelings of responsibility to my friend? I have to preface this in a metaphor…my bucket is already mostly full and I can only add so much before my stuff spills out. I suppose the best way to look at this situation is in combat casualty stability. When a brother or sister goes down in combat, you have to first suppress the incoming fire before you can move the casualty and begin to stabilize the wounded. Would I be a better friend to my brother if I went down trying to help him, or is it better to support him by being at my best? Please understand that I view my friend in the same way that I view that first Marine. I respect him, and I have never seen quit in him. But he is hurting and in need.
Perhaps in this case I need to look away from my military training for guidance. Psalm 22:22-24 says that “I will proclaim Your name to my brothers; I will praise You in congregation. You who fear God, praise Him! All you descendants of Jacob honor Him! All you descendants of Israel revere Him! For He has not despised or detested the torment of the afflicted. He did not hide His face from him but listened when he cried out for help.” Ultimately I can not truly help my friend. There is only One who can. According to this psalm, my responsibility is to appeal to God, who is fully aware of what my friend is going through and is actively engaging in his situation. I know that for some that type of thought is anathema or viewed as naive. At the very least it can seem as a platitude to comfort myself. But truth is defined as reality as God perceives it. I have no doubt in any fiber of my being that He is intimately involved in our lives and that His overwhelming desire is compassion for my friend. So, for me to say that I will yield to God and proclaim His authority as true healer is not a passive gesture, it is instead the most active and beneficial intervention that I have now at my disposal. Can it be that all my attempts at standing up for my friend are less powerful than kneeling for him?
Blessings and Peace to Eric,