That's why I was able to feel a shock of recognition in the words of a former Marine, writing in this past weekend's Sunday New York Times about the things he and his soldier comrades have been through -- and their frustration with other people's reactions -- particularly the comment “I could never imagine what you’ve been through.”
I know an airman who suffered a traumatic brain injury during training just a few years after being in a car accident where he watched his twin brother die. When he tells people about the T.B.I. and the accident and his service, he invariably gets the “I could never imagine” line. “It makes me angry,” he told me. Sure, he wants to say, you don’t think you could understand, but what if I want you to?(Boldfaced emphasis mine.)
Now, I'm not a soldier, and while I've had a few nasty bangs to the head, I wouldn't call them traumatic brain injuries. But I share his frustration & anger. "I could never imagine" is one of those phrases that people reach for when they don't now what else to say. It's a crutch. It's one of my pet peeves as a bereaved mother. I'll admit, I've probably used those words myself in the past. But, having heard them far too often for my liking over the past 16 years, I bite my tongue more often these days & search for something more meaningful and less clichéd to say.
Because when you say "I can't imagine" (even if you really can't), what I'm hearing is "I don't WANT to imagine. Not going there. Nope. Sorry, kid, you're on your own in this scary, scary place you've found yourself in."
The article continues:
If we fetishize trauma as incommunicable then survivors are trapped — unable to feel truly known by their nonmilitary friends and family. At a recent Veterans Day performance put on by Arts in the Armed Forces, Adam Driver, the organization’s founder, a former Marine turned actor, spoke of his feelings of alienation after leaving the corps. “Not being able to express the anger, confusion and loneliness I felt was challenging,” he said, until theater exposed him “to playwrights and characters and plays that had nothing to do with the military, that were articulating experiences I had in the military, that before to me were indescribable.”Substitute "non-bereaved" for "non-military" -- does this sound familiar?
It’s a powerful moment, when you discover a vocabulary exists for something you’d thought incommunicably unique...(Sounds a lot like how I felt when I finally connected with other bereaved parents, in real life and online, and other childless-not-by-choice women!)
Believing war is beyond words is an abrogation of responsibility — it lets civilians off the hook from trying to understand, and veterans off the hook from needing to explain. You don’t honor someone by telling them, “I can never imagine what you’ve been through.” Instead, listen to their story and try to imagine being in it, no matter how hard or uncomfortable that feels. If the past 10 years have taught us anything, it’s that in the age of an all-volunteer military, it is far too easy for Americans to send soldiers on deployment after deployment without making a serious effort to imagine what that means. We can do better.Read the full story, and then tell me -- what do you think? Did this article speak to you & your experience in the same way that it spoke to me? Do you think "I can't imagine" is a coping mechanism, a cop-out, or...?