“I come to thee for charitable license,
That we may wander o’er this bloody field
To book our dead and then to bury them…”
–Shakespeare, Henry V, Act IV, Scene 7
It is not the first battle, or the first defeat. It will not be the last. The psyche is an arena that seldom knows complete peace.
Are you like me? Do you stand on the muddy field after the cease-fire, looking aghast at the damage? Have you stood this way hundreds of times, heartbroken at yet another failure to keep destruction contained?
Maybe it was a full-scale war, months or years long, ending in severe consequences for your life in the outside world. Maybe it was a smaller skirmish, one that no one else even saw, only days long–but a day can last a very long time on these unreal fields.
Perhaps your attack against yourself was swift and unsophisticated, or perhaps you gutted yourself with sharp swords and exquisite accuracy.
It does not matter, at this moment. You try to tell yourself it could have been worse, or lasted longer, but right now you don’t care. The point is it happened, it happened again, it fucking happened again.
You scream with frustration and grief. You fall to your knees and pound your fists into the muddy ground. It isn’t fair, you shriek; why does war erupt again and again, why can’t you just stop it?
The sky does not care what you shout at it. The odd bird chirps, loud against the comparative silence that hangs in the air between your cries now that the clash of weapons has stopped.
Eventually you get tired. God, you’re so tired, and the rage isn’t helping anyway, and you fall silent. And when you are quiet, you begin to hear the voices of the wounded.
It’s time to lay it all aside. They are still alive, and they need you. Crawl through the mud to clasp a bloody hand. Lift an unconscious body to a stretcher. Give water. Do the next thing that needs to be done; respond to the next cry.
“I’m sorry,” rasps one fighter as you wash away blood. “Forgive me,” whispers another as you close a wound. They all weep, talking about how they should have tried harder, trained harder, fought harder. They push feebly at your hands, saying their wounds are not so bad. Surely others need you more (I deserve it, I deserve it rings in the background of their speech and your heart replies no, it was my fault, I am the one…)
Some just turn their face away and say “Leave me alone.”
You don’t blame them. What do they have to look forward to, after all? Being carried to the healers, days or weeks or months of recuperation, maybe a few pleasures or times of companionship followed inevitably by another trip to this bloody war zone? Of course the next battle calls to them more strongly than any joy they might find before then. It will take time for courage and hope to rise.
You want to tell them the war is over; that this was the last battle they will have to endure. You want to tell these loyal aspects of your Self that their courage and perseverance are now to be rewarded. You want to tell them it’s time to beat their swords into ploughshares and sing only the songs of peace.
You want to let them rest all winter. You want to lead them, in the spring, to the greening field and let them build a temple to harmony and wholeness.
But you can’t.
Or perhaps you can; just don’t lie to them and claim they’ll never have to defend it. You can’t deny that the enemy is still there, still part of you, and will attack again.
You can make that temple beautiful. You may manage a longer interval before the next conflict. You may reduce the casualties. You may learn to be a better medic. But the war is not over, and never will be.