Archive for December, 2011


Last week, I needed a good book to read- to relax in the evening. Rather than buying a new one or going to the library, I decided to look through the hundreds of books on my shelves. Many of them have been in my life for over thirty-five years. I keep them because as they enriched my life once, I knew they could do that again, that to revisit them would open up a different encounter, one that might reveal my own evolution as much as the book’s richness. I forgot that to reread a treasured book is to meet it anew, to see the place for the first time. As in T. S. Eliot’s well known poem, “Little Giddings:” “the end of all our exploring/ 
Will be to arrive where we started
/And know the place for the first time.”

I don’t know why my eyes fell upon Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway. An English major in college, I wrote my senior thesis on Woolf’s works, focusing on her mystical philosophy. But as I reread Mrs. Dalloway, I discovered a theme I never came close to recognizing thirty-six years ago: the cost of war to a society.

Published in 1925, seven years after the end of World War I, on its surface Mrs. Dalloway, is about a day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway, an upper class London woman who is giving a party that evening. Rather than depicting the external world of behavior and appearances, Woolf weaves characters’ thoughts and responses to external objects in an impressionistic portrait of how the human mind processes experience. Central to this particular book is how encounters with other people shape us, an aspect of it I did not remember as I picked it out of my collection.

Brief, broken, often painful as their actual meetings had been what with his absences and interruptions the effect of them on his life was immeasurable. There was a mystery about it… in the most unlikely places it would flower out, open, shed its scent, let you touch, taste, look upon you, get the whole feel of it and understanding after years of lying lost.”

This particular passage expresses the musings of a former lover of Clarissa about their relationship, and while that relationship is important to her, it ends up not being the one at the heart of the book. The relationship that becomes definitive for her is with Septimus Smith whom she only meets at the end of the novel, their “meeting” occurring only through her hearing about his death, a suicide.

Septimus Smith is a veteran of “the War” and suffers from what we have called since the 1980’s PTSD. He lives in a constant state of terror, expecting “horror to surface and explode.” “He had fought; he was brave; he was not Septimus now.” His most acute symptom is an utter lack of ability to feel, to taste. He sees ghosts of the dead, especially a beloved commander, who was killed in front of Septimus. Yet the doctor, whom the book increasingly casts in a negative light as supercilious, arrogant, and destructive, says that nothing is wrong with the veteran and that he just needs to throw himself into an interest.

The gulf between his experience and his wife’s understanding of it becomes a chasm. “It was she who suffered,” she thinks, feeling completely helpless and alone. She fears he will try to kill himself. (The various characters think the words “fear no more,” the phrase like the chorus of a Greek tragedy.)

Septimus does kill himself, though without forethought or intention. As the hated doctor enters his home, Septimus is certain he is about to lose control of his life and flings himself out a window. It is when a group of politicians mentions his death that evening at Clarissa’s party that she “meets” him. The group includes the much reviled doctor who had treated Septimus, a man that neither Clarissa nor her husband ever liked. He is holding forth to Clarissa’s guests that “there must be a provision in the Bill” about shell shock. He tells the details of Septimus’s death.

“Oh, thought Clarissa, in the middle of my party, here’s death.” As she moves out of a selfish, self-centered response, “her body went through it.” She experiences empathy and the other stages of grief. The shock, the questioning, understanding. “A thing there was that mattered. This he had preserved. Death was defiance. Death was communication; people feeling the impossibility of reaching the centre which, mystically evaded them. Closeness drew apart. One was alone. There was an embrace in death.” Somehow his death was “her disaster.” She did not pity him. She “felt glad he had done it; thrown it away…. He made her feel the beauty, feel the fun.”

What to make of Clarissa’s response? At first read, it seems extremely childish, narcissistic. His suicide made her more aware of the good things in her life? But if we consider that Septimus fell on a railing that impaled him, might Woolf be casting him as a Christ figure who sacrificed himself to redeem the world of its sin- the sin of the War that casts its shadow over the book from the very beginning? Five pages in we read “It is June. The War was over except for someone like Mrs. Foxcroft at the Embassy last night eating her heart out because that nice boy was killed… .”

After she thinks that Septimus’s death made her “feel the fun,” she next thinks she must go “assemble.” To assemble is to bring together. What Septimus wanted, what he could not stop thinking about in his last day was the utter importance of universal love. Such love is only possible when we connect, when we see what we cherish and long for are the same.
Woolf constructed Mrs. Dalloway so that the characters orbit one another, one passing another one by in the park, one having seen another in the doctor’s waiting room, each ignorant of the other’s struggles and relevance to their own life. Rather than meeting, they are separated by six degrees. Woolf tells us that our salvation lies in connection, in meeting. (And how amazing it is that Woolf captures the characteristics and essence of PTSD so well.)

What makes my re-encounter with Mrs. Dalloway significant for me is that in the last ten years I have learned that my father suffered PTSD from WWII and that his invisible wounds shaped our family history. Not only did I not see back in college Woolf’s subject of combat trauma (nor did any of the criticism I read at that time) but I had no idea that subject was relevant to my own life. Woolf is a greater teacher than I ever imagined her. (It is amazing how well Woolf understands and portrays combat trauma). She speaks what we have yet to learn: that our salvation lies in our connecting, in our finding our way to universal love.

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The Huffington Post reported this evening that the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee is calling for an inspector general’s investigation into how long veterans are having to wait to get treatment for mental health disorders after they return from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Witnesses at hearings held by the committee have testified that veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder often have to wait longer than 14 days before getting an initial appointment, and that follow-up visits can take much longer.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has greatly increased the resources going into mental health care, but the large number of troops returning from the war continues to stress the system.

Today Sens. Patty Murray of Washington and Richard Burr of North Carolina said congressional hearings have shown that even veterans who attempted suicide had appointments postponed.

These hearings, no doubt, are Congress’s response to the case Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans United For Truth vs. Veterans Administration. A three judge panel of the Ninth Circuit ruled for the plaintiffs last May, holding that treatment delays for PTSD and other disorders are so ‘egregious’ they violate veterans’ rights. The panel said that veterans had waited ‘long enough’ for the VA to act, compelling the court to intervene. But last month the upon the vote of a majority of nonrecused active judges of the Ninth Circuit, the case will be reheard by the entire court.

Today’s developments indicate Congress has developed the will to take the necessary action to provide veterans with the mental health care that is their right.

Category : Uncategorized | Blog
مبلمان اداری صندلی مدیریتی صندلی اداری میز اداری وبلاگدهی فروشگاه اینترنتی گن لاغری شکم بند لاغری تبلیغات کلیکی آموزش زبان انگلیسی پاراگلایدر ساخت وبلاگ بوی دهان بوی بد دهان