His was a face of war. Broken. Cracked with lines etched from the shells of distant fields. The timely grey of a short bristling beard spoke of survival. When he smiled, his war mask lacked the appetite for glory, rather leaving an impression of a man roaming to find his way home, for the battlefield, however distant in miles, was eternally present in his mind. This war mask belonged to a man who'd shaken hands with Death and been allowed to walk on.
My impression of Sebastian Junger was formed by his appearance on stage at The Carter Center this past Thursday night. The author of The Perfect Storm; War; and the documentary Restrepo; was promoting his new work, Tribe. (I will review the book in a later post after I finish reading it). This was an evening of thought provoking conversation about what it means to be communal in our society.
Sponsored by Georgia Public Radio's Two Way Street (see the podcast version), a packed room listened to Junger talk about his childhood, his time in Sarajevo and Afghanistan. In honest, refreshingly frank terms, he spoke of his own bout with PTSD and the causes that so many veterans grapple with after their tours end. He also opened up about the crucial role a tribal society holds in cementing our happiness as individuals. It is the communal effort that gives us purpose, propels us forward to a greater goal and results in our contentment.
The crowd was highly engaged with the presentation. It was moved by the mother who during Q & A spoke of her son's PTSD related suicide. There was a collective sense that our grip as a 'tribe' is slipping away in this country, to our own detriment.
Still, it was the face of the warrior on stage that I kept contemplating. Mr. Junger - who I absolutely respect for his skills - wouldn't call himself a warrior. My guess is he'd refer to himself as an anthropological reporter. But I could see the warrior standing in the shadows.
I've seen that war mask before. The petty officer who wore the his 'lucky' rain jacket in spite of regulations because the shrapnel holes in it were all that remained of his experience on a river boat sunk in a Vietnamese Delta. The Major with the non-regulation sidearm that helped him earn his rank and the medals on his chest, who tended to end his shift with a belt of scotch to toast having seen the sun going down one more time, definitely had it. My Uncle, his two tours tucked out of sight, silently wore it until the day he died from Agent Orange.
I look forward to diving into Sebastian Junger's new book, Tribe. I'm fascinated by the subject matter. But I think more importantly, I'm interested in reading the perspective of one our tribe's best - a warrior who has dared to make a journey most of us refuse to traverse.