Soldier’s Heart

I was recently sitting at a makeshift outdoor bar with picnic tables assembled in a parking lot. At a table not too far from mine were an older man and a middle-aged woman. I couldn’t hear the conversation, but I did notice the man listening carefully to his friend, often in silence for three or four minutes at a time over the course of an hour. It struck me as quite unusual, a level of concentrated attentiveness that I hadn’t really seen for some months. And it brought me back to an article I had read earlier that day, about the surprising increase in depression and suicide during this pandemic, especially among younger persons, the causes numerous: absence of physical community, increasing isolation, loss of direction and purpose, and the impact of deep, chronic stress often held in silence.

I had just been writing a friend that morning about the impact of heightened, unfamiliar long-term stress, much more common these recent months than was being acknowledged and explained. I used the term soldier’s heart, a phenomenon known during ancient times but more frequently acknowledged during the American Civil War: acute reaction to the long-term stress of battle involving deep fatigue, depression, slowed reaction time, confusion, and indecision, among other symptoms. Interestingly, these symptoms parallel those attributed to compassion fatigue, prevalent among those who caretake loved ones or others for unusually long periods of time, often without relief or a sense of a foreseeable resolution. 

In both of these syndromes and the subtler forms of them that we all encounter in different chapters of our lives, the breaking point often comes when there is no observable outlet for understanding. That is, no one listens carefully. 

Oftentimes, it’s not so much an immediate answer that someone is seeking to resolve persistent distress – frequently unrecognizable through outward signs as much as the presence of someone who earnestly seeks to understand what they’re going through. That can be as simple as taking a little more time than usual to ask an additional question or two and leaning in to genuinely listen so as to open space for a real, revealing conversation.

As I was preparing to leave the parking lot picnic table, the couple near me got up, and the man left to pay the bill or use the restroom. The woman slowly wandered off toward the sidewalk, where she stretched her neck to each side, let out a long exhale, and looked up at the sky. I thought to myself, That conversation was really well done.

7 Comments Add yours

  1. trueblue says:

    “Soldier’s heart” – I love the poetry, music and history of that.

  2. Cindy Calkins says:

    Hi, I really enjoyed reading this article. It hit some memories of late. A couple of times this last 2 weeks I’ve had some disturbing thoughts run through my mind that I could not recognize as my own. I wasn’t sure if I could recognize them as even being a thought I was capable of having.
    Your words were a salve on open wounds. I have known for sometime now about the increase of stress and depression due to the pandemic but knowing it and dealing with it are two very different boiling pots of oil. Thank you. With a warm heart full of graditude I appreciate your words of intelligence and kindness.

  3. Mirko Amleto Alberto Pansera says:

    Beautiful. So Amazing Beautiful

  4. Raphael says:

    I do like very much this reminder of deeper caring listening (I also love the quote just below this box about listening and hearing), this ability to slow down and really make space for someone else to express their deepest thoughts, emotions, feelings with no fears of being judged. I find the art of listening much harder than talking although we probably all talk too much (rush to talk) and at times with a lack of relevance. I especially like the long silences you speak of during their conversation. It really makes me want to be better at listening and being more subtle in my engagements with people.
    You may never know, you might be the one providing that very much needed conversation, relief and save someone’s life, too.
    We can and should all be that torch of love from time to time…

  5. Guy Miclette says:

    “That conversation was really well done.” I like to believe that this was an act of creation. Ordinarily, this is a triumvirate situation: victim, oppressor and saviour.

    Anxiety-inducing factors deplete positive energy levels and build up negative energy and negative thoughts patterns. Then one starts to attract negative thoughts belonging to others like a magnet and slowly becoming a time bomb.

    The following is a mix of information I gathered from different sources:

    The story at the bar tells us a good listener is needed to help someone to ventilate some steam but both persons have to understand something. If the “listener” takes sides in the story and/or sells “positive thinking”, he will be vamperized and exhausted afterward. If the “talker” keeps having “polarized” ( mostly negative ) thoughts and emotions, the cycle will start again activating the pressure cooker.

    A good listener is at a neutral point ( point zero ). From the negativity he receives at his neutral stance point, a positivity pole will naturally arise and creative thoughts from his own higher Self connection will descend. This is called: Creativity. This is called Intelligence at the zero point. Any act of creation requires three poles, pos+ and neg-.and neutral (ground). Like a comedian will always use negative situations and create something funny (positive situations is rarely humorous. “Negative energy is the compost to create something positive” – Andre Moreau Philosopher.

  6. Mihai Tudorascu says:

    These words penetrate the walls. Their warmth makes holding them in place unnecessary. As their solidity dissipates, ease makes its way towards places that have stayed in the dark for some time. Tensions gradually soften and the walls nearby become visible. Behind them, close ones who seem out of breath. What could reach them?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s