a note to the writer going to war

You are going to war, my friend.

No matter how soft your step or tender your touch; no matter how kind your words or hard your helmet – you are marching into the depth and darkness of despair. You are going where the rain is red and wounds are washed by weeping widows.

The immense weight of inhumanity will try to settle over your soul as the dust settles on dead bodies.

This will not kill you, my friend – not while hope for humanity survives the evil deeds done by humans.

You, your hope and your humanity will witness tearing trauma and unimaginable horrors, but this will not be the end.

Know that it will be overwhelming but do not let it overwhelm you.

I can’t imagine what you will see, how you will react or how you will feel as you walk into the trenches of terror.

Your world may become white noise; your mind might feel littered with landmines. Your eyes might not shut through the darkest nights and you may feel like a folded shadow.

I can’t imagine what it will be like; nobody can.

But you are going nonetheless, and you will be a better human for it.

While you are there, do not be swallowed by despair.

Talk about what you witness. Find the words to release the shrapnel from your heart. Take a form of comfort in your trauma: insofar as you have the capacity for caring, so do you hold hope for humans.

Listen to the survivors that you encounter. Recognise that they have triumphed tragedy; respect their wounds and honour their eyes. Be kind. Be honest.

Remember: you are there to fight for truth.

You are a human. You are made of emotions, memories and hope – all this is going to be threatened by what you experience where you are going. Be true to yourself: during and after this time, you will need to find ways for expressing (not drowning) your trauma; confronting the sights that splinter your mind and shatter your heart.

You are a warrior writer. Your weapon is a pen, your battlefield is the page and your ammunition is the truth – do not fire blindly. While all around you the world is red and drowning, remember that your war is black, white and meant to be read.

You are going to war with the words that will speak for survivors; to grow hope for peace among the pieces; and not loose hope in your humanity.

Your friend


This piece of writing was originally submitted to the Rhodes University Journalism and Media studies department on 19 October 2015. This was the assignment:

A colleague has recently been assigned to report on a massacre in which civilians, including children, have been killed. He has never had to cover anything so traumatic before. Write him a note in which you advise him about how the experience might impact on him and what steps he can take to protect himself emotionally and psychologically.

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