Dead Things

When I was in high school, I read the novel First Blood, which is the novel that the Rambo movies were based on. As is often the case, the movies were very unlike the book.

In the novel, John Rambo, a homeless Vietnam vet, is passing through a small town when the local sheriff tags him as trouble. Keep in mind this is in 1972. The novel talks about Rambo’s beard and unkempt appearance. The war was just ending, and many folks returned to broken dreams and brought their nightmares with them.

One thing the author, David Morrell, does well is we are privy to the inner thoughts of John Rambo, a homeless trained killer. Early in the novel, he sees a dead cat on the side of the road. It seems like it was a nice cat, he thinks, and wonders what series of events caused its demise.

Then he thinks that that is one thing that has changed for him after the war. He notices dead things more.

Trauma changes your brain like that.

On the other side of my burnout, my brain changed, and then after the trauma of 2020 and 2021, it changed some more. I, too, notice dead things more than I did before. I, too, wonder about the stories that led to their destruction and empathize with the people who experienced the loss.

And I crave predictability. Routine. Safety. I love to read, but I bet I have reread every novel by Rex Stout and Agatha Christie at least three times in the last five years. I’m currently on my 5th marathon of Murder She Wrote. Formulaic fiction is my comfort food, where I won’t be surprised, and there is no real tension, and I’m not emotionally involved. I bet I haven’t read any new literary fiction in 5 years. I miss it so.

I hadn’t read any John Grisham in a decade, and on a lark, borrowed an audiobook of one of his novels to listen to on my walk. It was not amazing, but OK, and I was into the story, and there was a moment when one of the characters was about to do something self-destructive, and I had to turn it off. I still don’t know if they got arrested for drinking and driving.

I get tired much easier than I used to, despite my being in much better shape than I was then, and getting much more sleep than I did then. My temper is shorter than it was, and yet I’m less eager to fight. Not because I am afraid of confrontation, but because I know it’s not good for me. Or them, honestly.

Crowds freak me out a bit. I’m thinking that I will stand six feet from people until I die. Every single ambition I had in early 2015 is gone. My life changed, and then the world changed. A lot of people died. And we all acted like they didn’t.

I no longer desire to “go viral” or write sharable content. Viral content is mostly content that evokes strong reactions, and I don’t really want to do that.

I want to write my stories, go for my walks, feed my chickens, plant my flowers, worship at my little church, and work to improve my city and state. I just want to have an ordinary, boring life. I just want us all to make it.

Trauma changes your brain like that.

One thought on “Dead Things”

  1. Thank you, Hugh, for your words and insight. I am not the same person I was pre-pandemic and have no desire to return to the frenetic pace. I was in parish ministry and have transitioned to chaplaincy where deep conversations about the important things of life and death happen more frequently than they did in the congregation. I’m still so tired and am happy to come home at the end of the day, have dinner with my husband, make a cup of tea and snuggle with our dog. Currently, Hurricane Ian is heading our way; if unpredictable is what we’re trying to avoid, hurricanes don’t seem to care. I’m focusing on my breath, putting up hurricane shutters and baking cookies. Blessings to you.

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