Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Marines, Meditation And The Smell Of Paint

Here is something that has been a surprise to me, and not really.

Two summers ago - due to an unexpected emergency that required a fast painting job of a large part of our house in order to get ready for our son's wedding - through a series of wild coincidences, I suddenly had a group of five elite Marines around me for ten days, painting my kitchen, hallways, and two bedrooms. They were in between engagements making some extra money with painting - a job that doesn't trigger their post dramatic stress disorder because the smell of fresh paint is one of those reliable peacetime smells, unlike the stink of war.

I have spent my whole life with children, meditators, gurus, healers, Buddhists, Taoists, vegetarians and other gentle and kind folks. We take spiders outside and set them free instead of killing them. We speak in hushed tones. We sing and dance and love nature. We cook vegetarian food. We are saving the planet, not just with our peaceful conduct, but also with our meditative minds on a vibrational level. Although I counsel people who have seen the worst, and often I suffer with them, my own life has been a peaceful life thanks to the tough guy in my life - my husband who has my back.

My contact with the military is close to zero. So when these men were suddenly working side by side with me in our house I was very curious for them to tell me about their lives, how they saw the world, how they saw civilians, Iraqis, Americans, and whatever else they could tell me.

The first thing I learned was that these Marines were highly trained special forces. They were the Marines who keep the Marines safe and who had fought in the toughest places in Iraq. They were the ones who keep the Green Zone safe. They refused to tell me about the ugliness of war, the same way a parent protects a child from violent movies. They had misunderstood that that was what I was interested in.

I grew up listening to my grandmother telling me those kind of stories and could have shocked even these Marines with some of the things the Russians had done to the Germans, or the Nazis had done to the Russians in Russia. "Shocked" may be an exaggeration, but war stories like these are best kept in ones heart as reminders not to nag ones husband or start a fight with one's neighbor.

We talked about post traumatic stress disorder. The obvious hero of the group, a forty-one year old father of five, who looked like he was in his later twenties, was "stationed" with me in the kitchen. He explained to me that for soldiers like him PTSD was not the common high stress reaction people have, who have been victims of crimes, but for him his brain actually goes into a type of seizure that puts him into a completely different reality where he is totally convinced that he is in a war zone.

His friend later told me that the previous month this marine had taken a neighbor hostage whose wife had begun screaming for help when her husband had started to beat her up. In his altered reality, having "secured" the abusive husband, he was waiting for his commander to give him further orders. Two hundred police officers from surrounding towns gathered to deal with this crisis, and also his wife was finally located. She warned the Chief of Police not to fire a single shot and just wait, or it would be no problem for this particular Marine to take them all out before they knew what was happening. She kept all these men at bay and talked to her husband until he "woke up". Even with a full seizure he still knew right from wrong and I guess nothing illegal happened by coming to this woman's aid, or otherwise he would not have been in my kitchen painting. Every abused women could use a neighbor like that.

After that story I felt a little nervous about our nail guns going off outside ever few minutes, but his buddies laughed and assured me that there were four of them, equally trained, to take care of things.

At some point one of them said that war was often very boring. Endless waiting and sitting around - kind of like baseball ( or the Buddhist meditation hall) - until something does happen
( like the master asking you where you left your shoes). That is when the training and the presence of mind kicks in and counts.

It was extremely hot that summer. Nothing like Iraq in uniform, they laughed. My gratitude for these guys grew by the minute. I asked them what they thought about all the anti war attitudes in America and they said that it was sometimes painful to be called baby killers. They were gracious though and non-complaining or self-pitying. They were calm and knowing about the way people who didn't know much treated them. They knew the enemy they were fighting and protecting this country from. When I asked what motivated them - and why do they do this for us morons here in this country, they simply said they did it for us. It sounded very humble, very generous and very understanding of even those in our country who are against the military and any kind of war for any kind of reason.

While the plumbers and electricians downstairs and outside kept yelling and cursing at each other, and the carpenters complained of the heat, these Marines never whined about anything. Being around them I picked up the centered presence that I come across in people in more advanced meditation circles . It is the centered presence I try to teach in meditation sessions. I once explained it to an ex drug dealer who had at some point had an empty gun held to his head and been "shot", that it is this level of being present in the moment that meditation was all about. As "my marines" and I ran out of things to talk about we just worked side by side in silence for several of the remaining ten days. It was very, very peaceful - which was a surprise. Unlike some of the murderers I have met through my work, these five tough guys, were angels and did not have the slightest "vibe" that I can pick up from others who have killed.

"Angels" may - once again - be a bit of an exaggeration. The carpenters told me later on that they made "inappropriate hot mama" comments behind my back - but hey - at my age - bless their souls! In the kitchen when they were with me, it was all stories, silence, respect, and the fresh smell of paint.

And - they did get the job done!

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