Heal Thyself

| December 17, 2012

I sat on my porch in the dark this morning, bundled up against the cold, listening to the wind in the trees. I didn’t want to be inside. I didn’t want to read the mundane emails and social media streams. I didn’t want to listen to the news, anymore. I didn’t want the comfort of a hot drink and a soft couch. I needed to feel the world as it is. I’ve been sick the last few days, which gave me an excuse to feel bad, as if I needed one. I feel better this morning, not only from the medicine, but also from sitting outside in the snow listening to the wind, looking at the stars, smelling the desert, shivering a bit, and decidedly – blissfully – uncomfortable. Still, it’s out there, beyond comprehension, beyond coming to terms, beyond moving on – twenty dead children. It hurts. Without knowing them or their families, without discounting the pain of countless other people around the world, without considering the circumstances, without any other context, the fact alone … hurts.

Half a lifetime away, I was a soldier. Not by choice; I didn’t have one. When I think of those years, they are reduced to moments and mental images: the Negev desert in the dry heat of summer; hot and humid nights in the Jordan Valley, in an empty base, guarding an ammunition bunker outside Jericho under the biggest yellow moon I had ever seen. There were drills and training sessions and border patrols and the occasional raid, but these seem to fade into a blur now. Instead, I remember the sun rising in perfect silence over distant silhouettes of mountains across the Jordanian border; large vultures gliding slowly into deep canyons; tantalizing vaporous apparitions shimmering above stark expanses on quiet summer afternoons. I remember being in Lebanon, watching smoke rising from burning houses in small villages, and butterflies fluttering among the barbed wire fences and over the minefields lining the border. I remember the breathtaking beauty of the Golan Heights in spring, adorned in fields of huge crimson irises and bright red anemones among the black basalt rocks; remnants of abandoned Syrian villages; old stone fences and small yellow signs warning of landmines and unexploded munitions. I try, and sometimes fail, not to recall patrolling refugee camps, sewage running down unpaved streets, prisoners shouting and spitting, women wailing at funeral processions, the thick dark silence of night curfews, the scents of gunpowder and diesel and mess halls, evacuating dead and wounded after a mortar attack, and children asking to borrow our rifles to pose for a hero shot. I also remember long hours hiking away from base into the desert, the fields and the canyons; and finding solace in solitude and the peaceful pace of the natural world. Without it, hopelessness would surely have gotten the better of me.

I loved listening to the now-gone Voice of Peace radio station. I can still recall their slogan: “from somewhere in the Mediterranean, we are the voice of peace,” often followed by a reading of Max Ehrman’s Desiderata and a few notes from the Eagles’ “I wish you peace.” The words – both the song and the poem – etched themselves into my young mind and stayed with me since, as my life took on turns and twists I could not begin to imagine then. I know today that my hopelessness then was misplaced, as it is today and at ay other time. There is still a lot of living to do.

We each deal with such matters in our own way, but, if I may offer any kind of advice, I suggest turning it all off – the media, the hype, the politics, the incessant pundits and marketers. Disconnect. Unplug. Find a place of peace to break down and to pull yourself back together in. Heal first, deal later.

I wish you peace.


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Category: All Posts, Featured, Journal

About the Author ()

Guy Tal is a published author and photographic artist. He resides in a remote part of Utah, in a high desert region known as the Colorado Plateau – a place that inspired him deeply for much of his life and that continues to feature in his images and writing. In his photographic work, Guy seeks to articulate a reverence for the wild. He writes about, and teaches, the values of living a creative life and finding fulfillment through one’s art.

Comments (11)

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  1. Avner Yaron says:

    New York, Newtown, Jerusalem, Rishon Letsion. Killers or terorists you will find all over the world. Escapism might be a part of the process of healing but it is not the solution. Living in Torrey, Utah, is part of your past erasing. Your great artisitic capability cannot erase your roots and history. All people (or at least most of them) outraged of killing of innocent children and their teachers. You say that your past is “fade into a blur now”. Well, if you brought it up – its mean that its still part of your personality. Landscapes views and nature pictures are a great way of escapism. Dealing with the news, with everyday life, with difficulties and crisis is real life. I wish all of us peace.

  2. Les Picker says:

    Nicely done, Guy. A good change of pace. Inner peace to you, too, bro.


  3. Hi Guy – thanks for sharing your reaction to this tragedy. I can imagine that your personal experiences must give events like this a deeply personal meaning.

    Of course, we all must experience these things in our own ways. I see value in your suggestion but my reaction is different. We used to have a gun ban in this nation. I don’t know its impact to our gun-caused murder rate, but do know why it was lifted.

    Politics, and money in politics, is a fact of life but it’s infuriating all the same when a powerful industry steadfastly fights for the status quo despite such clear evidence that we’re on the wrong path.

    My reaction is anger, and I’m embracing it. I’m angry and frustrated by our system. I’m angry at our leaders. And I am using this to amplify my own small voice to try to forward the notion of change.

  4. Greg Russell says:

    On Friday morning I got up early and drove to the mountains to see the fresh snowfall. I had been hiking around for a few hours in peaceful, quiet solitude, and around lunch time decided to head home. As I was driving out of the mountains I turned on the radio in my car and slowly began piecing together the events that had happened in Connecticut earlier in the day.

    As a parent…as a human being…I felt (and still do) a profound sadness at the news, and at the images the media has been showing. It is heartbreaking for in the truest sense.

    Strangely, my feeling is guilt. How can I share my images with the world, my peaceful experience from that morning, while others are suffering in this way? It seems very selfish of me. But, then, I read your suggestion that not all hope is gone from the world…and I feel better. I’m unplugging from news outlets today and am going to write about my morning on Friday, and why I feel hopeful, even in times of despair.

    Thanks for this, Guy.

  5. Beautiful message Guy – I enjoyed the insight into your past, and agree with your “unplug” philosophy. What happened Friday was tragic indeed, but the unending repetition over the airways is enough to depress the most optimistic soul. I wish you, and this tumultuous world, peace as well, and I hope you have a wonderful holiday season.

  6. Avner has a good point in general above as applied to all people about denial and its pitfalls. However, since I know Guy a little, I know that he is not the type who is unwilling to look at his past or is somehow running away from difficult issues. He doesn’t write or broadcast a great deal about it because that is not helpful to others. I also know that as human beings we have a built in mechanism for escaping that is healthy and keeps us from getting overwhelmed. People only bring up what they can handle of the past. Sometimes it is better to be gentle and patient with ourselves in our healing process. In addition, as Bill Chambers echoes Guy above, our media today barrage us with negativity, just so they can obtain more viewers or sell more copy, while we are bombarded to the point of severe psychological unrest. Right now the NY Times and other media outlets, especially TV stations, are harassing the heck out of friends and family members of the fallen, just to get more details and to compete with each other for the most in-depth story about what happened.

    This kind of activity is one reason why so much denial is prevalent and even necessary in today’s world. Also, healing does not happen amidst the noise, only in the quiet can we heal, which I believe is part of Guy’s message. Beautiful photograph and an empathetic, emotional response to your pain, Guy.

  7. BWJones says:

    Nicely said. Peace be with you.

  8. I too, wish all of us peace! Thanks for sharing and I do hope for our healing as well.

  9. Janae says:

    Beautifully written. Your writing is as pristine as your photography. Thank you for sharing such a genuine part of yourself.