First of all, let’s just clarify something. I do not have six fingers on my right hand. Please stop acting like you’re going to kill me. You can put down your fancy sword, OK? I have something important to tell you.
Listen, my brave friend: I don’t know exactly where you are right now, but I do know what you’re facing.
“Something needs to happen. I can’t stand this. I can’t live like this anymore.”
You might be the soldier dangling on the nerve-wracking brink of battle. The sounds of enemy boot steps echo through the forest. Your weapon sits on the ground, primed and ready, as you wait… and wait… and wait… trying to block out the anxious whisperings bound around your heart. You brace yourself, as the storm clouds loom overhead, the birds flee the sky, and thunder softly drums a battle march on its timpani.
“I will survive. I will survive.”
You may be the warrior in the fray, heart burrowed away in your chest, hiding behind your mindless ferocity. Your heart holds no sway over you as you burn, crush, slash, and wreck your way across the field, blood racing in your eyes, survival preserving you but demolishing those in your path.
“This is never going to end. I won’t make it through.”
You may be the warrior desperately flinging yourself into the nearest trench. Your head rings from the tumult, and every inch of your skin is streaked with blood, sweat, toil, and tears. You lay there, trying to steel yourself against the bloated bodies and hollow eyes of your lifeless companions. You shut your eyes and foresee the hours of hell looming before you, dreading what you will find there, and the death that might find you there.
“I can’t do this. I won’t do this. I’m done. I’m leaving.”
You may be the warrior with your back to the battle, quaking heart fleeing the way you came. You are cowed by the ear-ringing clashes and splatters of bloody hatred whirling around you; your lungs heave, your heart cowers, and your eyes widen with wild terror. Hateful thorns grasp you with their claws, mocking your cowardice. You trip over a rock and crash into the underbrush, where you lay, gasping, under the dense roof of trees. You curl up on the loamy floor, covering your ears to block out the hatred with which you hate both yourself and the battle.
You may be the bloodied warrior standing on the hilltop, weapon raised to the sky in trembling fingers, a short-breathed victory cry on your tongue. A flag is stabbed into the ground beside you, blood-painted and ragged. You survey the slaughter, rejoicing that you came out alive, but knowing that this victory can only be bittersweet, coming at the greatest cost.
“What do I do now?”
You may be the warrior standing on the front porch, nervously shifting the pack on your shoulders, staring at the door. It hasn’t changed, but you have. It’s bitter and sweet and a new kind of battle. You’re facing the old by returning to your homeland, with all its own trenches and hilltops. You’re going back, and you must fight to remain the new person you have become.
You don’t get to choose the battle lines and camp. You don’t choose the fray. You don’t choose the hill of victory, the retreat, or the doorstep. You’re simply there. In a life full of many wars, each place is a natural curve in the road or hill that must be walked; you must go through it all. You can’t choose where you are; but you can choose what kind of warrior you are as you stand in that place.
So, for as long as you await the battle, hum a hymn of hope while watching with sharp and vigilant eyes.
For as long as you lie in the trench, lay down your head to rest and your heart to catch its breath from grief and fear.
For as long as you retreat, remember that at some point you must turn back, and the farther you run, the harder it is to turn back.
For as long as you stand on the hill of victory, let tears of joy and tears of grief mingle and stream down you face in fitting, beautiful unity.
For as long as you stand on the porch, hem the memories of your struggle into your heart, but then greet your family with open arms as they rush out the door to welcome you.
Your fellow warrior and friend (whose right hand truly only has five fingers)