I’ve been dragging my heels.
It’s been a week of dual deaths and even though I know little of this character (and truthfully, I began researching him as I was writing this week) I wasn’t looking forward to killing him. From family research, I knew his basics: birth, family, marriage, children, death. I knew he had served the Union in the Civil War.
And I knew he did not survive. War is such a hideous sport. So many lives are lost, and for what? For there is never a true “winner” where war is concerned.
In the little bit of research I did this week, tracing his path from volunteer, to muster, to camp and battles, I found myself doing what writers do best: imagining myself in his shoes.
Granted, my INFJ side wants to avoid conflict. That’s not to say I wouldn’t avoid a fight if it’s the only way, but I prefer to be a conflict-resolver, one who craves peace and harmony. By nature, I’m a pacifist, and so this character was difficult for me to imagine myself making his decisions.
I spoke with a coworker about the difficulty I found myself in and my lacking ability to understand why he would choose to volunteer and leave his wife alone with four children all under the age of ten. And she told me a story of a relative of hers who had been unable to enlist during the Second World War and the immense shame he felt by not being able to fight. “I think if people looked at you, and you appeared to be a healthy man, it was shameful that you weren’t away fighting. I’m sure he would’ve felt pressured to enlist.”
And that made me think of the wars we wage within ourselves. The internal conflict that can be difficult to soothe. The guilt, the blame, the regret that we carry. The choices we make. The choices we didn’t. The little voice of self-doubt that’s there to tell you, no, you can’t. You’re wrong. That will never work. No one will ever want that. Need that. Need you.
Had he wanted to fight? Had he wanted to leave his family? Had he wanted to risk his life for country?
I’ll never know. Unless by a miracle, a family Bible or journal falls into my lap. But by putting into context the pressure he would’ve experienced, the shame he and his family would’ve felt, I was able to understand the difficult choices he made. And that made it all the harder to do what needed to be done. I didn’t want to kill a man a second time for doing what he believed was right, what he believed would protect his family.
But the part he played in this story has come to end. And as I wrote the scene of his death, I found myself overcome with respect for this man and his choices, no matter that I don’t agree with them. Because, backed into a corner, I can not say that I wouldn’t have made the same decision myself to protect my family. And, if not for the sacrifices of this man, had he stayed and carried the stigma of shame his wife would not have become a widow, she would not have remarried, and I would not be here today.
A heavy and bittersweet realization. But, also, an important lesson. Because even though we are not of the same tree, even though the same blood does not flow within our veins, our roots still run deep together, twisting and twining into knots, incapable to unravel.