War Heros: A Poem

War Heroes

As taught by 500 veterans who have been tormented by their war.
Part 1 How to know you are a war hero
(pick some from the list below)

Believe you didn’t do enough
Believe the real heroes are dead
Have pride in what you did
Despise what you did
Not give a shit about what you did

Believe you should have died
Think you must figure out the secret reason you didn’t die
Be angry at the people who weren’t there
Think of everything you can to keep your kids from going
Love anyone else for going
Think you only did what you had to do
Think you didn’t have to do everything you did
Think this is not how heroes think and feel

Part II How to get over being a war hero

Grieve everything and everyone you lost
Grieve all the yous you think you could have been
Go through the grief until you recognize the impossibility of the other selves

Learn we have an obligation to find serenity
Learn that nobody in their right mind needs you to suffer anymore
Learn that living your life well is the only way to honor the dead
Learn that trying to carry other people’s pain would be an insult, if insults could exist
Stop pretending you are not going to die

Learn that knowing something once is not enough, we must keep coming back to it
We don’t pray once

Part III Where you learned the definition of the word hero

Maybe when you were a kid you learned to look up to someone as a hero
You thought that person had all the answers, all the power, all the skill, and none of your kind of fear
Then you grew up, but still never noticed
that the hero didn’t feel what you thought he felt

Now we know that the courageous are scared,
and the skillful aren’t always courageous

Part IV Summary

There was a new recruit from Maine
who thought he would earn him some fame.
He got in the fight,
and Lord it got tight,
but you better not call him a hero because now he knows
it is much more complex than that, and besides all the heroes are dead

Howard Lipke
(1/6/16 version)