Written in March 2012.
In Norwegian here:/på norsk her:
people who themselves were outside the glaring streetlights of collective stories,
who could see the small flickering light of my individuality, the contours of my self”.
They were my good helpers, and Soldier was one of them.
In an old album I found a faded picture of a man in a khaki uniform with a kind and tired face. On the picture he had written: «Remember one when you grow old.»
Now I am old, and I wish I could tell this man that he has been one of the most important people in my life.
I never knew his name; he was just «Soldier». He was my Soldier and I was his Ninni Baba for a few years, until I was ripped out of this life. And because of him and his friends, soldiers were the kindest people I knew of when I was a little missionary child in India.
The missionary colleagues of my parents scared me, and that is another story.
The soldiers were war veterans; this was back in the early 1950s. And in my world soldiers were a friendly presence.
Sometimes they helped with practical tasks at the mission station, sometimes they arranged parties and games for the kids, and everyone had prizes. I used to win the last place prize in races, and that was completely OK – last place was also a place.
The soldiers showed us that children were important people.
Every Christmas they did hair-raising balancing acts on rickety ladders when they decorated the huge spruce tree in the mission courtyard with coloured light bulbs. And they put out Santa Claus when he caught on fire once, and that is also another story.
Sometimes they just were. They were very good at just being.
Did they call me over to them when they were having a smoke and a break? “Come, Nini Baba, come sit with us for a while.” Did I sit, toes curling in secret joy, with these friendly, tough men who kept on talking and mostly ignored me?
I cannot know. It is so easy to attach false memories to emotions. I do not trust the memories; I trust the security I felt when I was with them, the trust, the acceptance and the inclusion.
What I do know, is that when I search for the source of important knowledge and important values in my life, I often find the soldiers there:
The value of life.
What you do is important. Intentions and excuses are irrelevant.
The difference between “manners” and “manner”.
If possible, live in such a way that you can bear to look at yourself in the mirror. With an undertone of knowing that it had not always been possible during the war.
Honour is what you know about yourself. Reputation is what others think about you. *
When you have lived in a hurricane for many years, things do not suddenly become OK when the surroundings are calm.From quiet conversations that I do not know if I remember, there is a sense of the problems of adjusting to peacetime boredom, something about the ignorance of everyone who had not been actively touched by the war. And knowledge that this was not something one could talk to normal people about.
I brought with me knowledge about the ignorance of those untouched when I came to a Support Centre Against Incest in the 80s, just like everyone else who came there. And it was very good to be with others who had the same knowledge. Was it also like this for the soldiers? Did they help each other recover from post-traumatic stress?
Soldier and I connected in a shared interest in nature. A need to be outdoors, to observe, be surrounded by life and growing, sink into the surroundings, rest in them. Later I would be lucky enough to meet other adult friends who shared this need with me.
Soldier attached an extra seat to the crossbar of his bike, and I would dangle my legs and hold happily on to the handlebars when we set out into the jungle, looking for interesting places.
A need to sit for hours and wait for small animals to show up … is that so unusual that an adult would see a friend in a child who had the same need?
Very rarely, I buy a box of corned beef, and I cut slices straight out of the box and eat them cold. Then the tears come, and I see Soldier impaling a slice like that on his hunting knife and giving it to me when we are out exploring.
Is that a true memory? I do not know.
It’s a nice memory, anyway.
The tears are real, the grief at being torn away from Soldier and others who were important to me, without being prepared for it, without saying goodbye to them. There were so many losses that had to be flash frozen at the time because they were too heavy to bear.
The goodness is real – the feeling of being safe and valued. The trust in people who deserve trust. The pleasure of remembering just being together. This I never lost, even in the years when I had suppressed the sources.
And something else that is real, is the support:
“Someone who had seen me” was an important factor when I first began to allow memories and emotions from old harm to thaw, more than a quarter century ago. In that scary and chaotic period, when I deep down inside knew that I was going to drown and die, Soldier said something in a dream:
«One cannot sink who is a boat.»At the time I wondered about the word “one”, and did not connect it to Soldier until I read what he had written on the photograph: «Remember one when you grow old.»
The image he gave me, of being a boat, helped me let go of the false stories I was clinging to, helped me follow the current and the tide and the waves of my life in their ups and downs and hithers and thithers instead of trying to stay stuck in one level and one place.
And when I started a new thawing process in 2011, the voice of Soldier ended a long and dystopian dream with these words:
“Best go unburdened into the unknown.”
That dream is a story for another time. His words I give on to anyone who finds meaning in them.
The thought is from this science fiction series.
I had lived it for years before Lois McMaster Bujold gave me the words to express it.