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How One Man Began to Heal

Mar 12, 2012 // By Marcus Brotherton

I want to tell another story about T.I. Miller, a 92-year-old WWII vet I interviewed recently who fought on Guadalcanal and New Britain.

When it came to war, Mr. Miller had seen it all. Charging banzai attacks. Severed heads. Bloody arms, legs, and torsos. The works.
After he came home, a man doesn’t forget these things instantly, he said.
I asked him what helped. This was his answer:
What helped? My wife and family were a big help, especially my wife, Recie. At the same time, it’s something you gotta just do yourself. The secret, I found out, is just to stay busy. There were no government programs to help back then. No therapists to see. Nothing like that.
I was born and raised out in the country. So after I came back from the war, I built me and Recie a house out there close to where I’d grown up. I got out there and roamed around in the mountains. That’s what helped.
One time they closed the mines down for three months. Someone said, “Where you gonna go look for a job.” I said, “I ain’t. I’m gonna spend the summer out in the sunshine.”

 

And I did. I took a two pound double bladed axe, walked a half mile up above where I lived. We had a field there, and I cut down big trees and cut them into fence posts. All I had was that axe. I made my own mallet and split those trees myself.

 

I got me a half acre of ground, plowed it up, and had a field. That same summer I grew potatoes, corn, and beans. The whole summer I spent growing things I wanted to. I’d be out in the woods at daylight. I just worked like that and built myself back up.

 

Notice three key actions in Mr. Miller’s plan to heal. I’m no therapist, but I’d consider these important components to helping anybody out of a hard spot.

1.      He busied himself with straightforward, non-emotional work.
The war had taxed Mr. Miller’s ability to cope. During those years of horror, he had experienced too many events larger than himself. Splitting wood helped him connect with a simpler world.
2.      He got active, outside.
Fresh air, sunshine, nature, and physical exercise helped him regain a sense of security and peacefulness. Notice he didn’t turn to alcohol, drugs, or any such trappings that only result in harm.
3.      He could see what he accomplished each day.
Plenty of beneficial activities have non-identifiable benchmarks, but it’s much harder for a man doing this kind of work to feel good about what he’s done. By splitting wood and growing a garden, Mr. Miller could see clear progress on a regular basis. At the end of each day he could point to a pile of fence posts and say, “There it is. I did that.”
If you know a returning veteran, or anyone for that matter struggling with a dark place, please consider passing this article along.
The advice doesn’t come from me. It comes from someone who was there, survived, healed, and went on to thrive with the rest of his life.
Question: Have you ever been in a dark place? What’s the best thing you did to help you heal?
  • Nate

    Plain. Poignant. Perfect.

    Thanks for passing along, Marcus. It seems like a simple plan for such a complex problem.

  • MB

    Good thoughts, Nate. Thanks. –MB

  • Carlton Lowry

    A very poignant essay, Marcus. It appears that Mr. Miller had an angel in his pocket, also. Too often, we leave God out, thinking we can do it alone. I am sure he asked God in his own way, surrounding himself in the fresh air and sunshine.

  • MB

    Carlton, very true. Thanks for the comment.

  • Brandon

    This is an excellent story and makes me rethink my response to stress. Thanks you for this and the other great stories that you find that can inspire us to be better men.

  • Great topic here, Marcus. A big “Thank You” to T.I. Miller for sharing his experience with you, and us. His idea of “coping” relates well with me. I’ve never been in a “dark place” that will ever be in comparison to a War Veteran, but the dark places that I have been too can be dealt with in the same manner as suggested by Mr. Miller.

  • MB

    Brandon, Chris, great thoughts. Thanks–MB

  • Tobias (GER)

    thanks for telling this story of T.I. Next time I’m in in a dark place I will act the way he describes, cause it sounds like a real wise one.
    Mainly I do that kind of stuff already. Mostly when I’m angree on myself or somebody I go out and have a walk in the free nature. Maybe work on my bicycle or something else.

    Looking forward to read the next blog entry.
    T

  • M

    Tobi, you’re the Man. I always appreciate your comments. Thanks.

  • Love this post! Thanks for sharing this wisdom, Marcus. I think I’ll get my hands in the dirt this weekend and plant some things I want to plant. Then I’ll sit in the sun and watch them grow.

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HI, I'M MARCUS BROTHERTON,

the bestselling author or coauthor of more than 25 books. Welcome to my blog. Thoreau pointed out how too many people lead lives of quiet desperation. Their lives are bland and meaningless, or they make choices that trap them in despair and darkness. By contrast, I want to help people lead lives of excellence. Meet here regularly for powerful stories and insight into how to live and lead well.