Post-Traumatic Horror

Trigger warning for violence and war.

I, too frequently, find myself nearly making an apologia for horror. I read it, I write it. That seems to need explanation. A new thing in my life that my friends need explained: In the wake of a death in the family, an injury, and the loss of a friend, I have been going to church for about three weeks. I go as often as I can. This is unlike me.

I isolate myself. I see friends maybe four times per year, mostly in March and April. I barely talk at work. I say I don’t like people, but the truth is, I like them very much and I am bitterly disappointed when they fail me. This is characteristic of PTSD. Some things can’t be healed by “I know what you feel,” or by responding to a story with another, identical story. It’s eye movement, a telling euphemism, an unprompted anecdote I see myself in that lets me know I’m not alone. Sometimes it’s merely knowing someone else knows exactly what you did and what you’re going through and is still having coffee with you. We traumatized don’t hear words very well, but we hear shibboleths.

I need to be around people.

At morning services, we read out of the Book of Common Prayer. There are prescribed readings, and today is January 3rd, year two, so the psalm appointed is Psalm 68. It’s about war. We read until verse 11, then took a breather. Fr. David– my priest (I have a priest…?)– tapped on his book and pointed out the double line break before and after some of the verses in the psalms. There’s a double-width line break before verse 21, which he reads aloud cheerfully:

 

God shall crush the heads of his enemies / and the hairy scalp of those who still go on in their wickedness.

 

Horror.

He says this double line break indicates the verses that follow are offensive to our modern sensibilities, and we may skip them when reading them aloud. He says he doesn’t find them offensive himself. He reads through his own post-traumatic lens. Fr. David’s a very smiley person and smiles while saying this. I enjoy that he’s subtle; I recently said I appreciated him despite not knowing him long, and he said, And with thy spirit, a reply that could bear the weight of an exegesis. Anyway, if these line breaks were trigger warnings, he would call them that. How do I put this? I think hearing what Fr. David meant would require both context and enough attention for a close reading.

Someone interrupted, as happens in lively conversations, and we moved to the next thing.

Fr. David was an Army chaplain in Iraq and has written two books on post-traumatic stress and moral injury. Both were written from experience. Last night, the United States assassinated Qassim Suleimani in a strike at Baghdad International Airport. He said he was pretty sure he could see the trailer where he used to live in the aerial photos of the strike.

We got to the section of morning prayer where the priest has flexibility on what he’d like to read. He chose a section of The Great Litany because we are at war or may be soon. The section we read includes a prayer that the president will be wise, and for an end to all wars.

Let me defend horror as a genre and as a mode: people in a church in America, where the soldiers aren’t, don’t need a trigger warning. They need to hear the verse.

At least, that’s my reading of what Fr. David was saying. Don’t take my word for it. Sometimes when we see ourselves in other people, we’ve merely made them into mirrors. That’s in 1st Corinthians, isn’t it? There are 2-6 other people there on any given day, and all of them have stories like he does. I try and reach out. It’s imperfect, but I try anyway.

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