Saturday, September 26, 2009

Ex-POWs, Couch Pillows & Twinkies

Most Americans are soft - including me. I should drop right now and do a hundred on the dirt, but I'll finish writing first. Too much skin lotion, political correctness, warm water, protectionism, plastic playgrounds, and electron dependencies. We weren't always like this, it's been a gradual softening throughout history, but now just at an accelerated rate it seems over the past half century.

During my visit to the VA hospital in Boise, ID, they informed me that the National Convention of Ex-POWs was being held three miles uptown and that a presentation was scheduled that afternoon. The speaker was a long-time doctor of the local VA medical center that specialized in post-traumatic stress and he's been working with patients since World War II. I was half the age of the next youngest person in the room, which was a former Vietnam veteran. The doctor gave an excellent presentation that touched on various aspects of the topic, "Forces of Resiliency and Surviving" - basically research and studies in the qualities and characteristics of former POWs that possessed (or didn't) the resiliency of not only surviving torture and harsh imprisonment, but also the ability to overcome the lingering symptoms of PTS.

The characteristics found most common in resilient soldiers were: optimism, developed cognitive flexibility, having a moral compass, or what some might call, "shatter-proof" beliefs, altruism, being adept at facing fears, active coping skills, maintaining social relationships, keeping fit, and most had found a mentor, hero, or role model in life. Similar results were found in other studies done with disadvantaged children.

The personal stories told during the Q&A that followed were gut-wrenching at times: endless marches between German war camps, sickness, starvation, and one story of a man captured in the Korean War who spent eleven months in solitary confinement. Stories of dire conditions told by real men that had directly endured such experiences was profoundly humbling. Those former POWs ended the session with words of advice for our injured soldiers returning from war as well as their families and fellow citizens supporting their return: listen to your family, don't drink and drug, and therapy works.

So en light of this, it's hard not to wince when the experts via the media or the president compare the current economic recession to that of the Great Depression and so many other stories of middle-class crunch, cut backs, financial adjustments, or "lifestyle changes". Pity us! Recessions are a part of living - we create them, then we figure our way out of them until enough time passes, that we forget and make a new one with its own unique, knuckle ball elements. Hopefully they won't include the long food lines, unemployment, or stiff conditions that existed nearly 80 years ago.

Relatively speaking, yes, the bad stats are up, we are having to make changes, take new perspectives, and "toughen up" 2009-style, but take a second to look around and you'll see cars buzzing and grocery stores abundant (more on grocery stores later). Take a second to think, or try and think of another's circumstance, whether he or she is a soldier returned from war or someone you see that's honestly struggling to get by. Help them with their bootstraps while tightening your own.

Maybe technology brings teleportation and a few other toys that read your mind to increase your efficiency or ease your burdens, but really, it's hard to imagine a life of greater convenience than we already have.


  1. Hi Ryan.

    My name is Johna Strickland and I am the features editor at The Robesonian. I would like to write about your journey for publication in my Sunday edition. Do you have time speak with me on Wednesday or Thursday? Also, someone gave me your cell number. Is that a good way to talk?

    Johna Strickland
    (910) 272-6144

  2. Hey Johna, Sounds good, although I would have to call you from a land line, as there seems to be no cell reception on the Grand Canyon's north rim. Thursday would be better than tomorrow, as I am battling a wind storm trying to make it the last few miles in - 40mph gusts almost blew me in front of a speeding RV today. I will call your number. Thanks for the opportunity.

  3. I like to see your keeping in real Nance. i Will be in Tx soon. Look me up if you need a place to crash for a few, work or relax.

  4. C, Probably won't make it into to El Paso, TX until 15th, but will be pedaling hard. Hope to find you somewhere across the big lone star state.