Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Things They Carried--Tim O'Brien

The Things They Carried is a collection of short stories about Vietnam. As such, it is outside my comfort zone. I don't often watch war movies (Stop-Loss is an exception), and I definitely don't seek out war stories because I prefer for things I read in my spare time to end happily. Or I didn't seek out war stories, not until recently. A friend's upcoming deployment to Afghanistan in a few months has made me frantic; I'm trying desperately to understand something I cannot wrap my brain around: 1) why countries go to war in the first place and 2) how war changes kind, compassionate men and women and makes them do terrible things. I'm also trying to understand the changes in my friend; the beautiful boy with the radiant smile and the immense capacity for caring... he's still there, but he doesn't smile as often and he puts up a front, like he doesn't care anymore.

But I digress.

The story that had the most impact upon me is the last one, "The Lives of the Dead." In it, O'Brien writes, "We kept the dead alive with stories." This line stopped me in my tracks, so to speak, so instead of doing a typical book review, I would like to tell you a story.

The night before my mother died was a Sunday. I was shopping at Target and came across a DVD of one of mom's favorite comedians, Jeff Dunham. It was on sale, and I had some extra money, so I called mom and asked her if she wanted it. She told me I could buy it if I wanted to, and so I did.

When I came home with it, my mom and dad retreated to their bedroom to watch it. So did the cat. I went to work on homework. I walked by my parents' room to get something and I paused in their doorway. In my mind's eye, I can see my mom laughing and I can remember how she seemed to light up with joy. I came into the room, perched on the edge of my parents' bed and watched. And even now, I can hear mom laughing. And for a moment, it's like she's still here with me.

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