Everyone has a past. Everyone is also emotionally connected to their past in some way or another. The past can be what one willingly holds onto or what one is forever haunted by. Either way, these emotional burdens, stemming from someone’s past, always have some sort of effect on their life going forward and the lives of those around them. In most situations, it can be what one uses to help make life altering decisions. The emotional burdens others carry around are often used as motivations in their everyday life, positively and negatively affecting everyone in their path along with themselves.
In the middle of war it makes sense for soldiers to hold onto their past, considering their present isn’t something anyone would want to be living and their future isn’t guaranteed. Lieutenant Jimmy Cross held onto Martha, a lover from his past in which he used as motivation to get through the war. This motivation soon turned into a distraction, which wasn’t what was best for him and his men in the middle of a war zone. “Trouble, he thought - a cave-in maybe. And then suddenly, without willing it, he was thinking about Martha.” (page 11) In this situation, Martha is no longer the motivation to help get him through the war, but is a distraction to take him away from it. Because Cross is not fully present in the middle of this raid, as his mind takes him away from it to think of Martha, one of his men are killed. Cross forever blames himself for the death of Ted Lavender and he now has to learn to deal with this guilt for the rest of his life, showing how the emotional burden from his past negatively affected his and Ted Lavender’s futures.
Making the decision to head to war is a hard one and without some sort of motivation one might never make it. Sometimes the patriotic need to protect one’s country is enough motivation in itself to enlist, but for Tim O’Brien this wasn’t the case. He didn’t believe in the war and found no need to take part in it, but the shame he would feel of himself and of his reputation after his family, friends, and hometown found out that he fled from the war was enough motivation for him. “And right then I submitted. I would go to the war - I would kill and maybe die - because I was too embarrassed not to.” (page 59) O’Brien was already on the run when he made his decision, he could have avoided it all and was close to it. But the people from his past and what they might think of him became his emotional burden, motivating him into the war. There, though, he met new people, experienced new things, and made friendships to last a lifetime, showing how the emotional burden from his past did, in a way, positively affect his future.
Tim O’Brien’s life wasn’t just affected by that one emotional burden, but a few, that seemed to have a trickle down effect. First, once again, it was being drafted.“My conscience kept telling me not to go, but my whole upbringing told me I had to. That horrible summer made me a writer. I don't know what I wrote. I've still got it, reams of it, but I'm not willing to look at it. It was just stuff - bitter, bitter stuff, and it's probably full of self-pity. But that was the beginning.'' The first emotional burden of thinking about being drafted motivated O’Brien to become a writer. It started it all. Then, when in doubt, the emotional burden of what his reputation would be if he fled caused for him to go to the war. There, he experienced things and people in which whose stories he could then let live on through his writing. Without either of these burdens many soldiers’ stories would have never been told.
War is a terrible thing, but surviving it can sometimes be even worse. For most survivors, war itself is enough of an emotional burden to affect their futures. Things they’ve seen and things they’ve done can’t be erased and it can replay in their minds for the rest of their lives. This can be a deadly past to have haunt someone. Norman Bowker was dealing with this burden every day since the war. The death of his war buddy, Kiowa, hit him hard and he never recovered. “ “Speaking of Courage” was written in 1975 at the suggestion of Norman Bowker, who three years later hanged himself in the locker room of a YMCA in his hometown in Central Iowa.” (page 155) This situation has its good and its bad. The emotional burden of the war left Norman in such a bad state that suicide became an option, one that he took, showing how it all had affected his life in such a negative way. But at the same time, the burden helped him motivate O’Brien to write a book full of the war stories Norman thought people had to know. After the war, O’Brien receives a letter from Norman Bowker describing how he doesn’t know how to make his life meaningful after the war. It also included the suggestion for him to write “Speaking of Courage”, telling the stories of good men who could no longer tell them themselves. Norman’s emotional burden did have some positive effects on the lives of others.
Sometimes the past is there to help, and sometimes, to haunt. In all scenarios, though, its effects are inevitable. The emotional burdens can positively and negatively affect someone’s life, and can sometimes even cause something bad for one but great for another. Either way, these burdens from the past can’t be escaped, whether it’s the person holding onto them, or, the person running from them. But it is always up to the person on how they will allow their past to affect and motivate their future.
Entering the front door, I already knew what it was. Before I even seen the ripped up envelope on the counter addressed to my name, or the thick letter, folded into three sections, in his hand, I knew. I could just tell by the look on his face. I had never seen him so happy or so proud. This was supposed to be what I wanted, but I couldn’t shake that feeling of wishing that letter had got lost in the mail, wishing that it would never reach my house so I would not have to deal with the choice that was about to be laid out for me.
Ever since I was little I looked up to my father. I wanted to be everything he was and everything he wanted. One of the two I seemed to strive to accomplish early, whereas the other, I would never be able to.
My father is smart, he always was. And I wanted to be just like him. My father admired it. I think it’s because he feels he had created the monster. I remember, probably as clear as he does, my tiny, toddler body always crawling my way to his book shelves filled with all his old college books. Sitting on the fuzzy carpet in the living room, legs spread, back against the wall, book in lap covering my entire body, I pretended to know what the words said. Flipping through pages and spending enough time on each to make one actually question whether or not I understood some of it. He would tell my mother that I would grow up to be smart. I never had much trouble accomplishing that part, but the fact that besides wanting me to be smart, wanting me to have been a son made it impossible to please him.
Basketball shorts, a t-shirt, sneakers, along with my hair in the ponytail that it never left, was the everyday attire. Choosing to wrestle or throw the football around with the boys on the street while ignoring all the little girls having so much fun with their dolls as my dad watched from the step became a habit. He was as proud as my mother was appalled at the sight of my scraped knees, especially when I was forced to show them in the few occasions I had to wear a dress. But as hard as I tried to be the son that he wanted, there were always those incidents in which I would come running to him crying about something that apparently a little boy just would’ve shaken off, causing for the constant 8 words, “It would’ve been so much easier with sons”. My sister paid no mind to it, but every time he said it was a constant reminder that that was just something I could never achieve.
So I had to stick with being smart and trying my very best in school while also doing good in sports, even though he’d much rather be going to boys’ basketball games, to make him happy, and I did. But even that seemed to get old to him after a while. Running home with another honor roll ribbon on report card day or with stories from the game after a great win went from being responded to with such praise and interest to little “Good Jobs!” just to get me to shut up. Sometimes I wondered if he even realized how hard I tried at everything and just for him. It all never seemed to be good enough. And that is what seem to put a dent in our relationship.
I went from telling him every perk from my day to barely saying a word to him. I don’t even know if he noticed the change. His eyes still never left his laptop in which he worked on all hours of the day, and sometimes I felt that he was relieved he could now avoid the after school conversations in which he would have to pretend to care about. We began to fight about everything, we couldn’t even be in the same room as one another at times. Everyone else in the family said it was because we were the same person and that we were too much alike. This only made me want to show everyone that they were wrong. I now wanted to be nothing like him, which makes little sense saying out loud considering I still continued to do everything he wanted of me, always secretly trying to impress him, only now acting as if I could care less if he noticed. And for this I would never understand. Why I would still want to be like and impress someone who I had grown to hate at times was beyond me.
Our relationship only got worse, but I couldn’t shake the old habit of always feeling the need to impress him or make him proud. What he thought of me was in my head with every decision I made. But I was getting older now, and the decision began to get harder. Impressing him began to conflict with what I wanted.
It was the end of eighth grade now and the transition to high school was all anyone could talk about. The excitement of being in someplace new along with the expectations caused by the constant reminder from anyone looking back trying to relive the better days that “High school are the best years of your life!” made the last few months of grade school seem so long. But I sometimes tended to be more conflicted than excited. The best friends that I had grown up had known since the start of their schooling that they would attend Saint Neumann and Goretti high school to further the Catholic education we had since kids, but my parents were never really sure what they wanted me to do. But my father became very sure of it really fast. He became set on the idea of me going to a Science Leadership Academy in which I would know no one and essentially be surrounded with nerds, but “would receive the best education around”.
Then the letter came. I applied figuring I probably wouldn’t get in, always doubting. Just seeing his face I knew I got in. I hated the idea of it. I wanted to spend the best years of my life with my friends, but the habit of impressing him in the past became a burden I couldn’t shake. It still affected every decision I made, and it wouldn’t be any different for this one. I told him I would go without even thinking, the words just came out.
A junior now, getting straight A’s at one of the best schools around and having the best colleges as real possibilities for myself makes me realize that the choice I had made on the spot, without thinking, years ago had turned out to be a good one. High school is turning out to be some of the best years of my life by still being as close as ever with my Catholic school friends, and by also making some new ones with the “nerds” in which I never would have expected. It turns out that burden from my father had motivated me to make a decision that not only made us both happy in the end, but one that would be responsible for all of the positive things that happen in my future.