To Forgive is to Heal

David - Chico, California
Entered on October 15, 2008
Age Group: 18 - 30
Themes: forgiveness, war
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To Forgive Is To Heal

I believe that forgiveness is the single most important factor in healing. Ever since I was a child I’ve heard people say “I’m sorry” or “Please forgive me”. When I say I believe forgiveness is the path to healing, I mean the act of forgiving oneself. I’ve come to realize that of all the things we often forget to do, forgiving ourselves for what’s happened is the hardest.

My name is David and I was a soldier in the United States Army for five years. While serving in the Army I was sent to Kuwait, in March of 2003, I went to war against Iraq. My unit was part of the 3rd Infantry Division, being an armor division meant we crossed first into Iraq. While on our way to Baghdad we encountered scattered resistance from pockets of isolated enemy units. It wasn’t until we neared Baghdad that combat intensified. As we moved up the highway towards the city I was in the gunner’s hatch of our Humvee. We stopped briefly at which time Sergeant Marshall ordered me to get inside the truck. He said he would take my place on the gun. I had been in the gunner’s hatch for three days and reluctantly agreed to let him take my place. We mounted up once again and as we continued our trip at the head of the convoy, we were immediately engaged by enemy fire from both sides of the road. All vehicles returned fire, during the course of the fire fight Sergeant Marshall was hit by a rocket propelled

grenade. I watched as his lifeless body was blown from the vehicle and disappeared off the highway. The driver started shouting but I couldn’t hear him above my own screaming and the sounds of gunfire all around. The driver screamed that we should stop but I knew Sergeant Marshall was already dead if we stopped now the rest of the convoy would be in danger. With disbelief in our eyes and anger in our hearts we no longer took calculating shots; instead we used our anger to kill all those who stood in our path.

After returning home from Iraq I thought a lot about what had happened on that highway so far from home. I had no idea how I had changed. I was angry inside and managed to hide the pain deep in my soul. I hid it so deep in fact that it only came to the surface when I drank. It was at those times that I felt the most guilt; the alcohol didn’t allow me to forget. When I moved back to California after leaving the Army, I finally decided to get help. I started seeing a counselor at the Department of Veterans Affairs who slowly helped me understand why I felt the way I did. Through our many counseling sessions I came to realize that I wasn’t alone, that many soldiers felt guilt as I did.

You see, if I’ve learned one thing from my experiences it’s that you can’t control who lives and who dies. I constantly told myself that Sergeant Marshall wouldn’t have died if I hadn’t let him take my place. I could have saved him if only I had given the order to stop the convoy. I played these thoughts over in my mind each day, wondering how I could have changed the outcome. Through my sessions I came to realize that I had only done my job, there was nothing else I could have done. I finally accepted what had happened and took that first step towards forgiving myself. I remember looking into a mirror that my counselor was holding, looking into my own eyes I said “I forgive you.” It was at that time that I started to cry before that I had never cried while sober. Saying those words lifted a great weight from my shoulders and I knew I had taken the first step towards inner peace and the healing process.

I look back on all my experiences and I still have sleepless nights because of what I saw and did. However I no longer blame myself for what happened that day on a highway so far from home. War is chaos and never makes sense; the effects scar friend and foe alike. You carry its effects long after you leave the battlefield, but I found that forgiveness is the first step towards healing, and that’s what I believe.