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.
Once someone's dead you can't make them undead.
The presence of danger has a way of making you feel fully awake.
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.
There was the single abiding certainty that they would never be at a loss for things to carry.
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.
They carried all they could bear, and then some, including a silent awe for the terrible power of the things they carried.
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.
They sat smoking the dead mans dope until the chopper came
They were afraid of dieing, but they were even more afraid to show it.
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 was very sad, he thought. The things men carried inside. The things men did or felt they had to do.
What sticks to memory, often, are those odd little fragments that have no beginning and no end...
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.
When your afraid,reallyafraid, you see things you never saw before, you pay attention to the world.
But in a story I can steal her soul.
But this too is true: stories can save us.
Certain blood was being shed for uncertain reasons.
First Lieutenant Jimmy Cross carried letters from a girl named Martha, a junior at Mount Sebastian College in New Jersey. They were not love letters, but Lieutenant Cross was hoping, so he kept them folded in plastic at the bottom of his rusack. In the late afternoon, after a day's march, he would dig his foxhole, wash his hands under a canteen, unwrap the letters, hold them with the tips of his fingers, and spend the last hour of light pretending.
For Rat Kiley, I think, facts were formed by sensation, not the other way around, and when you listened to one of his stories, you'd find yourself performing rapid calculations in your head, subtracting superlatives, figuring the square root of an absolute and then multiplying by maybe.
He had an opinion of himself, I think, that was too high for his own good. Or maybe it was the reverse. Maybe it was a low opinion that he kept trying to erase.
He wished he could've explained some of this. How he had been braver than he ever thought possible, but how he had not been so brave as he wanted to be. The distinction was important.
I survived, but it's not a happy ending.
I want you to feel what I felt. I want you to know why story-truth is truer sometimes than happening-truth.
I was a coward. I went to the war.
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.
A lot like yesterday, a lot like never.
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.
A place where your life exists before you live it, and where it goes afterwards.
And as a writer now, I want to save Linda's life. Not her body--her life.
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.
More Tim O'Brien Quotations (Based on Topics)
War & Peace - World - Memory - Cowardice - Hope - Grief - Love - Man - Truth - Sense & Perception - Courage - Letters - Reasoning - History - Opinions - Future - Faces - Dignity - Listening - View All Tim O'Brien Quotations
More Tim O'Brien Quotations (By Book Titles)
- The Things They Carried
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