My memory is vivid of one of the saddest high school freshmen girls I had ever seen entering my classroom on the first day of school and finding her way to a seat in the far back corner. She looked so depressed that I feared for her safety. Through two semesters, I watched her gradually relax and open up to some classmates. She had made that difficult transition to high school.
During the next year, about once every couple of weeks, she and another friend used to stop by my first period classroom before school for a few minutes—just to say hello. It was always a good way to start the day.
In late winter, the time when students are signing up for classes for the next year, they came with a serious question. They asked if I taught Biology.
I said I did but that I would not be teaching it next year and I asked why.
They were hoping they might get me as their Biology teacher. I asked why. The formerly sad girl said, “Because you are my favoritest teacher.”
Again, I asked why and she replied, “Because you care how we feel.”
After a quarter century of teaching, I believe that is still my best compliment.
Reminder: This blog series is dedicated to love, the various kinds of love beyond the romantic and erotic that support personal growth and healing, especially the healing of invisible wounds from Combat PTSD.
Dr. Hart, who donates his time for our Combat PTSD Aftercare Group (for those who have gone through his year-long program of individual and group therapy), refers to being gentlemen. Basically, that means behaving as though we care how others feel. Most of us claim to not be gentlemen and to not want to be gentlemen.
But we are. Within the group, we obey a few simple rules about caring. We do not discuss war stories, politics, religion, or professional sports. And we do not carry weapons. Within this group, we usually behave as gentlemen.
We care how others feel.
We can identify with each other. We understand what PTSD feels like, and we know some things that trigger the worst episodes. We don’t wish those on anybody.
Some of us have had long marriages, but many have had more than one. Relationships are not easy for us. Long marriages for Combat Veterans seem to require spouses who learn how to care how we feel. I don’t know just how that works, but I do see good recovery from many of our symptoms among those with long marriages.
Funny thing about caring: While caring spouses seems to work for some of us, I think the opposite is much more important. What helps us recover is caring for others.
Could it be that simple?
The love that heals us is the love we feel for others?
I have always learned more from my students than I feel I taught them, and these young ladies taught me something very real. Yes, my caring about how they felt did provide some comfort and support during the raw years of high school. My caring about them also abated some of my symptoms for many years—until I retired from teaching.
With caring for others comes vulnerability, and with vulnerability comes threat of self. With threat comes PTSD.
But, with caring for others comes opportunity for recovery. The D in PTSD can stand for Dilemma. We feel the need to be very careful about how and for whom we care.
We need help. We need safe places and ways to care for others. We need you.