The Lives of the Dead is the final chapter in The Things They Carried, a novel by Tim O’Brien that mixes truth with fiction (and at times argues the latter actually holds more truth than the former), while weaving in and out of the Vietnam War.
I first read The Lives of the Dead in the Spring of 2002 (15 fucking years ago) at a time when I wasn’t reading much, despite being assigned quite a bit by my teachers (I still half nod out of vague recognition when someone makes a Holden Caulfield reference as if I read more than 10 pages of… Catcher in the Rye?). For whatever reason, this class (John Campanale’s Green Class) motivated me, the book inspired me, and this chapter struck an emotional chord. 15 year old boys at all-male Catholic schools are probably not the best equipped to think deeply about topics like love and death, but Camp really got us thinking. And we weren’t going through the motions – we were really thinking about shit.
I’ve read hundreds of books since then, and never again have 20 consecutive pages affected me to that degree. You should go read the whole book – it’s more powerful when framed as part of a whole than as an independent essay, but here’s what he says:
Remembering his first date in fourth grade:
Linda was nine then, as I was, but we were in love. It was real. When I write about her now, three decades later, it’s tempting to dismiss it as a crush, an infatuation of childhood, but I know for a fact that what we felt for each other was as deep and rich as love can ever get. It had all the shadings and complexities of mature adult love, and maybe more, because there were not yet words for it, and because it was not yet fixed to comparisons or chronologies or the ways by which adults measure such things.
And on the power of stories:
But this too is true: stories can save us. I’m forty-three years old, and a writer now, and even still, right here, I keep dreaming Linda alive. And Ted Lavender, too, and Kiowa, and Curt Lemon, and a slim young man I killed, and an old man sprawled beside a pigpen, and several others whose bodies I once lifted and dumped into a truck. They’re all dead. But in a story, which is a kind of dreaming, the dead sometimes smile and sit up and return to the world.
A blog is a really just a way to tell a story – and whether directly or indirectly, a good one will highlight things that you are passionate about and that you love. That’s what I’ll do here, and while it’s mostly for myself, I can admit that I do like attention – so maybe others will enjoy it as well.