Doctor, my eyes have seen the years
And the slow parade of fears without crying
Now I want to understand
To see the evil and the good without hiding
You must help me if you can
Doctor, my eyes
Cannot see the sky
Is this the price for having learned how not to cry?
Jackson Browne’s “Doctor My Eyes” seems as relevant and as poignant today as it did in the years right after I returned from Vietnam.
Although today’s attacks were hardly unexpected, I tried to avoid looking at the news any more than necessary. And when I did look at it, I tried to not look too directly at it to avoid seeing any more than I wanted to see, like looking at the traffic accident that has delayed you for several hours but not really wanting to see the results.
The awful thing about war is that even if you’re not directly affected, even if neither you nor someone you love has to fight in it, you can’t help but be involved in it. Unless you’re willing to hide behind slogans or symbols, war makes you examine yourself, your beliefs, and the world you live in more rigorously than at any other time.
And when you look too closely at the world you see all the poverty, misery, and hatred that seem to entrap the human race and to make us less than human. As a soldier in Vietnam, I was at first shocked by the poverty of the Vietnamese we were trying to protect. I wanted to give money to each of the young children that begged for money every time I got out of my jeep. After awhile, though, when I realized that there weren’t enough coins in my pockets to help them all, I simply chased them away as soon as they came running up, angered as much by my inability to help them as by the constant reminder of how little they had.
A real danger is that we will stop seeing the truth, that the constant exposure to human misery will make us unable, or unwilling, to see it. The misery becomes invisible either because we are avoid certain places or because we don’t recognize it when we do see it.
Even worse, if we do see the truth it will no longer be able to move us. We will have become too hardened to feel the pain any longer, blinded by our own experiences