Where Have All The Flowers Gone?
This is one of the most important songs written about the absolute senselessness of war. You can listen to songwriter Peter Seeger sing it at the end of this post (along with a version by Peter, Paul and Mary).
Today is November 11th and a time to pay tribute to the men and women who fought for their countries — often giving their lives as well.
I was talking to a friend last night and he was telling me that a favourite uncle of his who fought in World War II was now elderly and dying. Throughout his life, he never talked about his time at war. About three days before he died, while family members sat around his bedside sharing stories, his daughter asked, “Dad, is there anything you want to share about your time at war?”
Suddenly, tears welled up in his eyes and he began to sob. Once he got his composure, he started sharing the stories and the details that he had kept inside all through his life. Everything he had pushed down — deep down but not buried.
Every now and then he had to stop and catch his breath as more tears and sobs were released. His daughter was sorry she had brought it up but later realized that her question had given her dad a chance to finally heal his heart. Three days later he passed away, finally unburdened. At peace at last.
Over the years I have known many people just like my friend’s uncle, including my own dad who fought in the Canadian Army during WWII. He never spoke of it. My dad was a gentle man with very few words, and I was too shy and afraid to ever bring it up.
Do you have a family story of someone close to you who was a soldier in years past? Have they shared their experiences with you? How was that for you? Perhaps they’ve never talked about it but you sense they are still burdened with memories and even nightmares.
If you are a currently serving your country, how do you communicate your own inner feelings and navigate your inner terrain when living in war-torn countries — or knowing that you could be sent to one any day?
I remember a therapy client I had several years ago. He was an American Vietnam veteran. I saw him about two years after a car accident that almost took his life. He was driving along a highway and a car muffler backfired and he swerved his car — at 90 kilometres an hour — to the right, and down an embankment. The sound of the tire backfiring had triggered memories of machine guns going off.
How many people suffer from PTSD and get triggered by unrelated experiences? Not necessarily war, but whatever the trauma, it’s war inside our psyches if we don’t recognize the symptoms and get help.
At the moment I’m housing a friend of mine who was a TV journalist for close to 30 years. I met her at an author mentorship retreat I was hosting. Her book is about toxic stress — the slow drip kind that can lead to PTSD. How? In her case, it’s from decades of delivering the most current news, breaking tragic events while maintaining a near stoic demeanour, which was the expectation of the news station. She didn’t realize the toll that was building in her body and psyche from day-to-day vicarious trauma.
My journalist friend is writing a book to bring awareness to the countless numbers of people in so many different professions — first-responders, caregivers, even lawyers and court clerks — everyone who is required to just show up, do their job, go home, feed the kids, go to sleep and start again the next day, not realizing the stress that is building up in their bodies, psyches, and hearts.
Perhaps that’s you. It sure was me for five years of my life when I worked at Toronto City Hall as a court reporter. Every day I scribed verbatim the goings-on in adversarial situations — from parents fighting over custody over their children to men or women waiting to hear if they were going to be sentenced to prison for anything from drug dealing to murder. Every day I showed up listened and transcribed. I stayed five years even though I knew the first day on the job that it wasn’t for me. That I was too sensitive to be impartial to the goings-on and simply transcribe them.
Yet I stayed for five years because it was paying my way through school as I was studying to become a psychotherapist. After a while, like any other occupation, you simply do your work and “get used to it,” not realizing the invisible accumulation of the slow drip, drip, drip symptoms that may one day break into uncontrollable aggression, cancer, or suicide.
I invite you, this Remembrance Day, to take time to pay tribute to the millions of men and women around the world who, in days gone by, fought for their countries and have suffered post-traumatic stress in the years to follow.
Honouring the soldiers for who they were — each individual person who had a life, a home, a family, friends, hopes for the future — “now lie dead in Flanders Fields,” and in fields across our earth.
It was the veterans coming home from the Vietnam War that awakened psychologists to the fact that there was a very real condition that was needing to be addressed. Before that, there was not even any awareness of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It is now among many recognized conditions in the DSM.
As you know, I’m a strong proponent of the healing power of writing. If today’s Remembrance Day post brings up strong emotions in you, I invite you to take a few moments to give love and compassion to the tender parts of you are calling out to be acknowledged, nurtured, and held. Take out a notebook and write without stopping, allowing whatever wants to come out to emerge on the page. Then share your writing with a trusted friend, partner, or therapist.
Do not let deep feelings of pain sit inside you, silently releasing stress hormones into your bloodstream.
The day we honour our veterans is part of your life story. If this 11/11 story makes you want to write your own memoir and you would like to discuss it, please know that I am available to help you. You can begin by downloading my latest book, Your Life Matters! Learn to Write Your Memoir in 8 Easy Steps.
Here’s Pete Seeger singing his song, Where Have All The Flowers Gone? (he starts the song at the two-minute mark):
Here is a version of Peter, Paul and Mary singing Where Have All The Flowers Gone? This is at their 25th year anniversary concert: When will we ever learn? When will WE ever learn?
Here are some comments I found on the internet following their song:
I am 71 years old, I served with 1st Calvary in Viet Nam. I still cry when the flag is raised and I still cry when I hear this song. P, P & M were simply the best.
I found out I have cancer today and I’m just listening to this and doing art because my soul is wrenching out of my heart, and this is the only song I thought of when I found out.
George Vreeland Hill:
If we listened to music, I mean really listened to the words, then the world would be a better place. This is a song that needs to be listened to. More than ever.