“It is not those who can inflict the most, but those who can suffer the most who will conquer.”
– Terence MacSwiney
Last week, I wrote about my first visit to the Armed Forces of the Philippines Health Service Command. If you haven’t read it yet, I shared about my experience in this entry, “Have You Thanked Our Heroes?”
To be completely honest, I broke down right after I left the hospital that day. Again, I’m not writing this to seek attention for myself, but because I really believe that the stories of our soldiers—our heroes—need to be told. Our troops, those who are currently serving and veterans who have served, are men and women who literally break themselves for you and me—people they have never even met.
After my first visit, I had such a hard time going to sleep at night. Countless questions would run through my mind. Why is there so much pain in this world? How can their families move on from this? How will life be like for them, after all the trauma they’ve experienced? My thoughts would go on and on and on.
This led me to start researching about PTSD or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, a mental disorder that can affect people who have gone through traumatic experiences. Many of our heroes have to live with this condition. Even if they look “normal” on the outside, on the inside, they are bearing invisible, painful wounds. For some, therapy can help in overcoming PTSD. I am no doctor, but from personal experience, I find that talking does a great deal of good to the mind. So on July 21, I decided to visit our soldiers again, to keep them company and also because I promised that we would see each other again.
Some of my closest friends told me that they also wanted to meet our heroes, so they came with me that day. A part of me was glad. I wanted my friends to listen to their stories and get to know them personally, too. But an even bigger part of me was just being a coward—I knew that seeing our soldiers again would be much harder than the first time, and I needed close friends to help me go through the experience again.
When we arrived, it was so heartwarming to see their familiar faces again. It was also a relief to find slight improvements in their condition. But this didn’t keep me from literally breaking down right in front of them… and I felt so embarrassed by this. So many people in that hospital deserved to cry, but I definitely wasn’t one of them. While I was wiping my tears, feeling so overwhelmed by what I was seeing, one of the soldiers told me he just went through an eye surgery and that he had lost his eyesight completely. I was at a loss for words. How could life be so unfair? I can’t and don’t even want to imagine how living in darkness would be like, but this is now his reality.
To many of the men and women there, I am an “ate” (big sister). That’s how young they are. The man who just lost his ability to see kept telling me, “Salamat sa pagdalaw niyo sa amin dito.” I couldn’t understand how he could still be so grateful, while I was feeling so much anger for him deep inside. In another room, a woman was seated by her husband’s bedside, and he looked very fragile. She started telling me his story, slowly breaking down, but her stance stayed straight and proud. She proceeded to show me photos of him and their 5-year-old child. I felt broken seeing a dashing young man on the photo who looked nothing like the man lying on the bed.
I really don’t know why I am writing this. Perhaps, I am hoping that some of you will help put a smile back on their faces. They have many stories to talk about— sad ones, but also happy ones. Some even have miracles to tell, while others simply want an opportunity to share a joke.
I want to tell you how in just two short visits, these men have changed my life completely. And to think that there are many others out there whom I haven’t met yet. I can’t help but think that if only more of us had the character of these heroes, the world would be a much better place. If only we were less selfish, less hateful, and more grateful and more persevering. When I decided to meet them, I thought that I would be the one to lift up their morale. Instead, they were the ones who gave me a completely new perspective in life.
I strongly believe they should be acknowledged, not just because they are doing their job as soldiers, but because they are one of us. They are your neighbor, your ka-tropa, your brother, your father, your friend. They are hardworking people who have given so much into what they do—literally, their blood, sweat, and tears.