If you’re suffering from anxiety, depression, or other mental anguish, save this one for a day when you’re feeling stable. Or not at all. This entry contains graphic images and stories of extreme suffering.
If you do decide to go on, please read the whole thing and don’t look away.
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“I have told of only a few of the many things that happened in Camp D-1. There was so much suffering from sickness and diseases. The most common disease was beri-beri. There were two kinds of it, the wet beri-beri and the dry Bberi-beri [sic]. Of the two, the dry was the hardest on the men and some died from it. The difference was that in the wet beri-beri the bones became soft, and when one pressed on the shin bone, the impression would last for hours before it came back to normal. One always had a “washed out” feeling like the sooner you died, the better off you would be. This was the kind that I had. Dry beri-beri had lots of pain and burning to go with it. There were many nights in the winter that men would go to bed with their feet in small wooden tubs filled with cold water, and in no time at all the water would be hot. A number of men had this type disease, and it was nothing unusual for them to find that a toe had dropped off during the night. There was one man in my squad who lost three of his toes in this manner. The little toe would drop off first, and then the other smaller toes would follow in order.
“Early in 1944 a Marine by the name of Robinson whose number was 986 was having trouble with his urinal tract. He just could not pass water, and there were no catheters in camp. This man died a horrible death as each hour you could see his stomach swelling larger and larger, until he finally burst and then died.”
-From the journal of Corporal Pierce Wardlow, WWII POW in Japan.
“On 27 July 1994, Carter [this iconic image's photographer] drove his way to the Braamfontein near the Field and Study Centre, an area where he used to play as a child, and committed suicide… aged 33. Portions of Carter’s suicide note read:
- “I’m really, really sorry. The pain of life overrides the joy to the point that joy does not exist… depressed … without phone … money for rent … money for child support … money for debts … money!!! … I am haunted by the vivid memories of killings and corpses and anger and pain … of starving or wounded children, of trigger-happy madmen, often police, of killer executioners …”
“In South Africa, one person is raped every 26 seconds, according to aid groups and local organizations. Forty percent of those are children and babies.”
“One in four men in South Africa admitted to raping someone and many confessed to attacking multiple victims, according to a study conducted by the Medical Research Council and reported by the Mail and Guardian. The study also found that gang rape is common in South Africa because it is considered a form of male bonding, reports the BBC.”
About a year ago, a blogger I follow started posting entries about a friend of hers whose 12-year-old son Jack died in a drowning accident. My own oldest son was born the same year as Jack. I did not read those entries.
I wanted to not even think about it, to not think about it. But I kept thinking about it.
About that same time, I started writing my novel and before long I realized that this writing thing is what I’m supposed to do. It’s what I’m here in this crazy world for.
And I realized that if I’m going to use my one wild and precious life to its fullest, I have to stop looking away from obscenity. I have to look it full in the face, in all its awesome, terrible glory.
Jack’s story started calling me back. I listened to the call. I flowed into that icy cold water with him, and I flowed into his mother’s heart as it fell apart. I watched her look for him under that bridge. It felt like when you’ve lost something, maybe you’ve left your wallet somewhere, in a shop perhaps, and when you go back for it, it’s gone. You know it’s gone, but you’re convinced it’s still there. You keep looking. You look under the table. You ask the cashier, and then you go back to the table again. You look at the back of the chair. And under the table again. If you just keep looking maybe it will appear.
Except it’s not your wallet, it’s your son.
And some day soon you will walk into his room and you will look at the lego creations lined up on a shelf and you will remember that his hands, his living hands, built those, and you will pack them up anyway and you will give them away, because you can’t make a child go on living once they’re gone. You don’t get to do that.
It is only one of the horrors and sorrows of this insane, mixed up world. And if you want the truth of life, which you must if you want to be a writer, you can’t look away. You must not step back, turn back, go a different direction. You must go straight into the pain, you must step unflinchingly into the heart of darkness.
Then you must keep going, onward and through, through the peak of grief and horror. You must not stop. Only when you go in, and through, and lose yourself to the horror, then and only then may you find your way to the other side, transformed into something rich and strange.
This thing you witnessed, it will come with you too, and you will take its marrow and suck it dry and face the world again and say: I have conquered. And so may you.
We writers, we have a job to do. Our stories can change the world. But only if we look at it first.
“If you don’t care for obscenity, you don’t care for the truth.” Tim O’Brien