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Firebase Erksine

One of the most powerful sections in Focusing Emptiness is the chapter about firebase Erskine. This is the story about a remote artillery support base during the Vietnam war. But it didn't take up much room in my book until late one evening, quite by accident, I stumbled across a website devoted to the survivors of those who died there.

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It was especially the postings of the children of those who died that  hit me the hardest. Those postings called to me to try harder,  to write something better, to write something more. But Focusing  Emptiness wasn’t a book about Vietnam. It was about trauma, and  awareness, and how our defenses can fool us into making poor  decisions. And then something occurred to me, something about  a theory I knew of  concerning the children of trauma; that they these  children might be more vulnerable to traumatic situations later in life,  that they might be more prone to bouts of PTSD. But if anything, it seemed to me that my childhood had erected unseen walls that helped  to block out the harsh realities of life. Indeed, I may have  been less vulnerable. And I was never haunted by the ghosts of  Erskine the way others were. But I did not escape entirely.

 

It wasn’t  until I began writing about Erskine that I became aware of just how far my defenses had gone to protect me. I faintly remember Top Johnston, for instance, the Sergeant with me there at first, calling me over to the artillery pit where the whole fiasco on that hill began. Making my way through the blackened rubble the fires had left, I was soon standing at the pit’s edge, looking down through the smoldering streams of smoke rising up into the humid jungle air. But then…that’s all….that’s where my memory ends. I have no recollection of what I saw. I know what was down there because I remember the Top describing it. It was the burned and fragmented bodies of those who were engulfed by the fire and explosions that had taken the entire hill before we arrived. But I don’t remember seeing any of it. It was simply gone.

 

Our defensive structures are often hidden from us.  We only see the results of their action. We find ourselves in conflict withloved ones for reasons we don’t understand, we make decisions we look back on later and wonder what possessed us, we alter our experiences, sometimes allowing them to quietly slip into our unconscious. But once constructed, our defense mechanisms area never really gone. They are still there, underground, influencing our perceptions, molding our decisions, interacting with the world from beneath the surface of what we think we know.

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