Tim O’Brien Quotes (38 Quotes)


    They did not submit to the obvious alternative, which was simply to close the eyes and fall. So easy, really. Go limp and tumble to the ground and let the muscles unwind and not speak and not budge until your buddies picked you up and lifted you into the chopper that would roar and dip its nose and carry you off to the world. A mere matter of falling, yet no one ever fell. It was not courage, exactly; the object was not valor. Rather, they were too frightened to be cowards.



    In war you lose your sense of the definite, hence your sense of truth itself, and therefore it's safe to say that in a war story nothing is ever absolutely true.

    Together we understood what terror was: you're not human anymore. You're a shadow. You slip out of your own skin, like molting, shedding your own history and your own future, leaving behind everything you ever were or wanted to believed in. You know you're about to die. And it's not a movie and you aren't a hero and all you can do is whimper and wait.


    It was my view then, and still is, that you don't make war without knowing why. Knowledge of course, is always imperfect, but it seemed to me that when a nation goes to war it must have reasonable confidence in the justice and imperative of its cause. You can't fix your mistakes. Once people are dead, you can't make them undead.

    War is hell, but that's not the half of it, because war is also mystery and terror and adventure and courage and discovery and holiness and pity and despair and longing and love. War is nasty; war is fun. War is thrilling; war is drudgery. War makes you a man; war makes you dead.



    It wasn't a question of deceit. Just the opposite; he wanted to heat up the truth, to make it burn so hot that you would feel exactly what he felt.


    It's a hard thing to explain to somebody who hasn't felt it, but the presence of death and danger has a way of bringing you fully awake. It makes things vivid. When you're afraid, really afraid, you see things you never saw before, you pay attention to the world. You make close friends. You become part of a tribe and you share the same blood- you give it together, you take it together.

    You don't know. When I'm out there at night I feel close to my own body, I can feel my blood moving, my skin and fingernails, everything, it's like I'm full of electricity and I'm glowing in the dark - I'm on fire almost - I'm burning away into nothing - but it doesn't matter because I know exactly who I am.

    It's not just the embarrassment of tears. That's part of it, no doubt, but what embarrasses me much more, and always will, is the paralysis that took my heart. A moral freeze: I couldn't decide, I couldn't act, I couldn't comport myself with even a pretense of modest human dignity.

    Kiowa who saw it happen said it was like watching a rock fall, or a big sandbag or something-Just Boom-then down. Not like in the movies where the dead guy rolls around and does fancy spins and goes ass over teakettle-not like that. Kiowa said. The bastard just flat fuck fell. Boom down. Nothing else.



    The thing about a story is that you dream it as you tell it, hoping that others might then dream along with you, and in this way memory and imagination and language combine to make spirits in the head. There is the illusion of aliveness.


    They carried all the emotional baggage of men who might die. Grief, terror, love, longing--these were intangibles, but the intangibles had their own mass and specific gravity, they had tangible weight. They carried shameful memories. They carried the common secret of cowardice.... Men killed, and died, because they were embarrassed not to.



    I'll picture Rat Kiley face, his grief, and I'll think, You dumb cooze. Because she wasn't listening. It wasn't a war story. It was a love story.


    I'm skimming across the surface of my own history, moving fast, riding the melt beneath the blades, doing loops and spins, and when I take a high leap into the dark and come down thirty years later, I realize it is as Tim trying to save Timmy's life with a story.



    Because it's all relative. You're pinned down in some filthy hellhole of a paddy, getting your ass delivered to kingdom come, but then for a few seconds everything goes quiet and you look up and see the sun and a few puffy white clouds, and the immense serenity flashes against your eyeballs - the whole world gets rearranged - and even though you're pinned down by a war you've never felt more at peace.

    But I do like churches. The way it feels inside. It feels good when you just sit there, like you're in a forest and everything's really quiet, expect there's still this sound you can't hear.



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