The Soldier and the Most Vulnerable Man In the World

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ChicagoToday I heard the story of Ed Dobson, who has Lou Gehrig's disease. Ten years ago, doctors told him he had two to five years to live. He is still alive.

However, he sometimes can't button his shirt. And when his son was sent to Iraq, he said, “Enough is enough, God.”

He and his wife drove his soldier son to the airport.

“I think he was trying to be brave,” he said. And there was the soldier, the stoic, being looked at and loved by this disabled man whose vulnerabilities were there for all the world to see.

It reminded me we are all disabled men and women whose vulnerabilities are there for all the world to see (even if only we see them).

And we are all trying to be brave.

So About Today

So it's 10:57 pm Central Time. I'm sitting on my new friend Danny's couch. Next to me a pile of books is splayed across the red couch pillows.

Today I went to a conference in Chicago. I rode Colleen's racing bike through the city, past brick building after brick building.

Some of them looked like castles. Some were obscured by beautiful trees. Some were bare and dirty. I loved both.

The conference I'm attending is about story. It inspires me because it reminds me I have a story that matters.

You have a story that matters, too.

In fact, our stories can change the world.

However, right now I feel guilty. I haven't posted today. It's late. I don't really want to be writing this. It's not very good. I don't have anything to teach today.

I'm sorry. But I'm here, being brave.

This is the battle going on inside of all of us, writers or not. It's a battle between the stoic soldier and the vulnerable, disabled one. A good writer, I think gives voice to both.

PRACTICE

Write a story about a disabled man and a soldier. What do they say to each other? How do they interact?

Write for fifteen minutes. Post it in the practice.

Joe Bunting is an author and the leader of The Write Practice community. He is also the author of the new book Crowdsourcing Paris, a real life adventure story set in France. It was a #1 New Release on Amazon. Follow him on Instagram (@jhbunting).

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25 Comments

  1. Ryan J Riehl

    “Another day, another patrol,” said the soldier to himself. Pictures of green mountain trails floated in and out of his mind. Working in the desert has that effect- 120 degree heat plus the layers of gear. The light armored vehicle rolled down the alley. The soldier and his partner followed behind. Scanning windows and rooftops becomes a kind of game. Who can find the most rounded windows on their side of the street?

    Turning a corner, they prepare to merge onto a regular street. The soldier moves to the front to the vehicle. No more worries about snipers. Now he searchers for suspicious items on the side of road. Just keep from getting blown up for one more day. His squadmates in the vehicle scan the road ahead for blocks and ambushes. The street settles down some as people make way for the patrol. The foreign soldiers long since became a accepted fixture in the city.

    “Oh *****,” he heard exclaimed from the driver. Looking ahead, the soldier saw a man in the middle of the street. The man dragged one crippled leg behind him. Ambush? The thought came automatically. The driver was thinking the same. The man continued his slow crossing. “Cover me!” was the instruction he left over his soldier to his squadmates as he jogged ahead.

    Approaching the man timidly, he slung his rifle on his shoulder. Lifting his goggle, he smiled. The man face revealed nothing. Offering an arm, he crossed over to the man’s crippled side. The cripple man took the soldier’s arm and crossed the street. Raising his head, the man looked the soldier in the eye. The soldier nodded his head and returned to his duties.

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      I love how this starts Ryan. “Pictures of green mountain trails…” Good detail. I would have like to see more detail about the old man, to see him through your eyes more. Still, I love the practice. Well done, sir.

      Reply
      • Ryan J Riehl

        Thanks!

        I know what you mean about detail on the old man. It felt uncompleted when I finished, but I had already reached twenty minutes and paused once to help a customer. I actually had a second scene where the old man saved the soldier’s life. But I write too slow, apparently.

        Reply
        • Joe Bunting

          I write slow too, my friend. I don’t think you need to complete any of these. What they’re for is to hone your writing process. Next time you will know what to do with that old man, or with the cat who just showed up or with your protagonists arch nemesis. You will know how to combine that action and description.

          Reply
  2. Ryan J Riehl

    “Another day, another patrol,” said the soldier to himself. Pictures of green mountain trails floated in and out of his mind. Working in the desert has that effect- 120 degree heat plus the layers of gear. The light armored vehicle rolled down the alley. The soldier and his partner followed behind. Scanning windows and rooftops becomes a kind of game. Who can find the most rounded windows on their side of the street?

    Turning a corner, they prepare to merge onto a regular street. The soldier moves to the front to the vehicle. No more worries about snipers. Now he searchers for suspicious items on the side of road. Just keep from getting blown up for one more day. His squadmates in the vehicle scan the road ahead for blocks and ambushes. The street settles down some as people make way for the patrol. The foreign soldiers long since became a accepted fixture in the city.

    “Oh *****,” he heard exclaimed from the driver. Looking ahead, the soldier saw a man in the middle of the street. The man dragged one crippled leg behind him. Ambush? The thought came automatically. The driver was thinking the same. The man continued his slow crossing. “Cover me!” was the instruction he left over his soldier to his squadmates as he jogged ahead.

    Approaching the man timidly, he slung his rifle on his shoulder. Lifting his goggle, he smiled. The man face revealed nothing. Offering an arm, he crossed over to the man’s crippled side. The cripple man took the soldier’s arm and crossed the street. Raising his head, the man looked the soldier in the eye. The soldier nodded his head and returned to his duties.

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      I love how this starts Ryan. “Pictures of green mountain trails…” Good detail. I would have like to see more detail about the old man, to see him through your eyes more. Still, I love the practice. Well done, sir.

      Reply
      • Ryan J Riehl

        Thanks!

        I know what you mean about detail on the old man. It felt uncompleted when I finished, but I had already reached twenty minutes and paused once to help a customer. I actually had a second scene where the old man saved the soldier’s life. But I write too slow, apparently.

        Reply
        • Joe Bunting

          I write slow too, my friend. I don’t think you need to complete any of these. What they’re for is to hone your writing process. Next time you will know what to do with that old man, or with the cat who just showed up or with your protagonists arch nemesis. You will know how to combine that action and description.

          Reply
  3. careyrowland

    Joe zipped through brickish streets of the windy city on his borrowed bike. Angsty energy drove his legs to pump out kinetic rhythm, pump, pump, pump, see joe pump, while the mental squirrel-cage of some self-appropriated guilt propelled his striven quest further and further to fill up blank screens of practice prose. In reality though, he had no obligation to fill blank screens, for he could never fill them all. Those blanks, and their great bottomless pit of potential, are merely a means to an end– not an end in themselves. The real opus is what do you want to say, his viewer urges. What is the message?. So now the wounded champion, the soldier who overcomes evil through his death and conquest of it, looks down from a cross on Golgothian heights, and he asks: what, oh cyclist, is thy message? Fret not about the blank screens. What say ye to the world?

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Carey,

      Love this. “See joe pump.” Very childlike, reminiscent of, “See spot run.” And that mixed with this antiquated language is interesting, “What say ye to the world.” Also, it’s neat how you turned the soldier and the old man metaphorical.

      Reply
    • Kiki Stamatiou

      This is such a great science fiction piece. I was so drawn into the story, it was over before I knew it. As a writer, you’ve made me want to know more. This is a very nice start to a great novel.

      Reply
  4. Carey Rowland

    Joe zipped through brickish streets of the windy city on his borrowed bike. Angsty energy drove his legs to pump out kinetic rhythm, pump, pump, pump, see joe pump, while the mental squirrel-cage of some self-appropriated guilt propelled his striven quest further and further to fill up blank screens of practice prose. In reality though, he had no obligation to fill blank screens, for he could never fill them all. Those blanks, and their great bottomless pit of potential, are merely a means to an end– not an end in themselves. The real opus is what do you want to say, his viewer urges. What is the message?. So now the wounded champion, the soldier who overcomes evil through his death and conquest of it, looks down from a cross on Golgothian heights, and he asks: what, oh cyclist, is thy message? Fret not about the blank screens. What say ye to the world?

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Carey,

      Love this. “See joe pump.” Very childlike, reminiscent of, “See spot run.” And that mixed with this antiquated language is interesting, “What say ye to the world.” Also, it’s neat how you turned the soldier and the old man metaphorical.

      Reply
  5. Patrick Hearn

    Joe, I feel your pain.

    It’s almost 11 EST, and I really don’t feel like writing my blog post, either, but I am working on it. And the interesting part? Once I started, it became fun. It was just sitting down to do it.

    All we can do is be brave, and continue to show up to work, even if we don’t feel like it.

    Good luck, my friend.

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Good job, Patrick. Effort is the most important part of improving, but the problem is… it takes effort! Glad you powered through.

      Reply
  6. Patrick Hearn

    Joe, I feel your pain.

    It’s almost 11 EST, and I really don’t feel like writing my blog post, either, but I am working on it. And the interesting part? Once I started, it became fun. It was just sitting down to do it.

    All we can do is be brave, and continue to show up to work, even if we don’t feel like it.

    Good luck, my friend.

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Good job, Patrick. Effort is the most important part of improving, but the problem is… it takes effort! Glad you powered through.

      Reply
  7. Kriske Reecken

    So, here’s my version of the soldier and the disabeled person. very first writing prompt, never edited, stopped after 15min of writing: 

    The man
    stepped out of the train and adjusted his backpack.

    His combat
    boots sounded like a drum when he started to walk down the stone hallway with
    short and precise movements. He looked around, trying to see all the people in
    the large hall at once. A small movement on the other side of it caught his
    attention and he stomped deliberately to it, not even looking at the people
    around him, eyes fixated on a small woman sitting in a wheelchair. The woman
    looked up and met his eyes with her tear filled ones. She smiled, and her whole
    face lit up.

    The soldier
    didn’t stop walking for a second, still holding his deliberate, almost slow
    pace, his ace never letting go of the mask that seemed plastered on it.

    When he
    almost reached her, the woman opened her arms for him and he quickly scooped
    her up into his. He closed his eyes and sighed, finally letting a bit of
    emotion creep up on his face. A lone tear started sliding down his cheek when
    the woman started talking. “Oh Will, I never thought I’d see you again.”

    He held her
    a little closer before answering. “I know Linda, I thought the same thing.” He
    gently put her back into the wheelchair, putting her unresponsive legs under
    their blanket, and crouched down in front of her. His face went back to it’s
    mask, almost looking like it was feeling guilty of the show of emotion before.
    “how has it been? Have you been ok?” the woman smiled again. “life’s been fine
    will, but it‘ll be better now you’re back. The doctors say that if I keep
    taking my meds like I have been the last few months I’ll be fine.”

    Reply
  8. Kriske Reecken

    So, here’s my version of the soldier and the disabeled person. very first writing prompt, never edited, stopped after 15min of writing: 

    The man
    stepped out of the train and adjusted his backpack.

    His combat
    boots sounded like a drum when he started to walk down the stone hallway with
    short and precise movements. He looked around, trying to see all the people in
    the large hall at once. A small movement on the other side of it caught his
    attention and he stomped deliberately to it, not even looking at the people
    around him, eyes fixated on a small woman sitting in a wheelchair. The woman
    looked up and met his eyes with her tear filled ones. She smiled, and her whole
    face lit up.

    The soldier
    didn’t stop walking for a second, still holding his deliberate, almost slow
    pace, his ace never letting go of the mask that seemed plastered on it.

    When he
    almost reached her, the woman opened her arms for him and he quickly scooped
    her up into his. He closed his eyes and sighed, finally letting a bit of
    emotion creep up on his face. A lone tear started sliding down his cheek when
    the woman started talking. “Oh Will, I never thought I’d see you again.”

    He held her
    a little closer before answering. “I know Linda, I thought the same thing.” He
    gently put her back into the wheelchair, putting her unresponsive legs under
    their blanket, and crouched down in front of her. His face went back to it’s
    mask, almost looking like it was feeling guilty of the show of emotion before.
    “how has it been? Have you been ok?” the woman smiled again. “life’s been fine
    will, but it‘ll be better now you’re back. The doctors say that if I keep
    taking my meds like I have been the last few months I’ll be fine.”

    Reply
  9. Gabriela

    I loved this post – the point of being brave connecting at the very end with the reluctance to write the post. Brilliant.

    Reply
  10. Kiki Stamatiou

    Prompt #11: The Bond Between A Disabled Man, And A Soldier
    By Kiki Stamatiou a. k. a. Joanna Maharis

    Ren, a disabled man, and Randal, a soldier, met at a psychiatric hospital. Ren had a history of post traumatic stress, resulting from him being exposed to a violent environment. Upon being hospitalized for schizophrenia, he has an uncomfortable night. He screams in his sleep during the middle of the night.

    Randal is his room mate. He bangs on the door of the room to get the attention of a doctor and a nurse making their rounds, because the doors of the rooms are locked down at night.

    The doctor and nurse enter the room, and Randal tells them about Ren. The doctor and the nurse attempt to calm him down, but Ren’s nightmares are too powerfully overwhelming, and shouts, “He’s beating on me. The demon’s beating on me. Get him off. Get him off.”

    The nurse puts her hand on Ren’s shoulder while talking soothingly, “Ren, no one is going to hurt you. You are in a safe place.” However, it wasn’t no good. Ren just kept on screaming.

    The doctor sedated him.

    The following morning, when Ren went into the break room for breakfast, the nurse and the doctor asked him, “Ren, did you sleep good last night?”

    “Yeah. Why wouldn’t I?”

    “Are you sure? Because I’m wondering if you were a soldier,” asked the doctor.

    “No. I wasn’t. You can even ask my family.” Ren insisted.

    The doctor and nurse walked out of the break room and left Ren to enjoy his breakfast.

    Randal was sitting next to Ren, and said, “Young man, you might have fooled them, but you haven’t fooled me. I have the same problem as you do. I know all about Post Traumatic Stress. I’ve had a history of it throughout the years. Now, I’m not trying to pry. I’m just trying to be a good friend. So, you don’t want to open up to the doctors
    and nurses here. I get that. But you need to talk to someone. Talk to me. I know, because I’ve been through all of that myself. I served in World War II. If anyone knows where you are coming from, it’s me,” Randal said while putting some French toast into his mouth.

    “I was never in the service. The only reason I have p. t. s. d. is because I grew up in a violent household,” Ren said with tears in his eyes, “I never told anyone about it, because I’ve been trying to bury it. Unfortunately, it resurfaced in the form of nightmares. I can’t get away from it. I don’t know that I ever will.”

    “Ren, you can’t run away from yourself. The only means to overcome this is to talk about it and to do journaling. Writing about your experiences is not only therapeutic, but it puts everything in perspective. You can’t keep everything bottled up inside of you,” Randal said while putting his hand on Ren’s arm.

    “Thank you, Randal. No one has ever really understood me, before. Especially, the way I’m jittery about dropping silverware into the sink accidentally, or spilling anything or when it comes to dropping anything. This is the first time, I have ever opened up to anyone about my life. Thank you, my friend, for giving me the courage to talk about my experiences.”

    © Copyright, Kiki Stamatiou, 2015

    Reply
  11. grantburkhardt

    I really like this prompt! This is as far as I made it in about 25 minutes. It’s unfinished, and I know it has some issues, but I really like the story and am going to keep it going for a while. Thanks, Joe!

    A hundred people were at the gate. It wasn’t to be a crowded flight. The infantryman, having arrived first at the gate, is sitting straight up in the middle of the group. A light bag is in between his feet. He is calm on the outside.

    In the seats facing him, a young man’s legs are crossed and wobbling. His hair is thicker on top than on the sides and he is hunched at the waist, flicking on his lighter to ignite single hairs on his raised leg. He is on his phone and his volume is high.

    “Nah, man,” he said. “I’m ‘ere now. I think we’ll be boardin’ soon. Ya pickin’ me up at the airport?”

    The young man stretched his leg – the one not on fire – across the aisle and slammed it on the armrest next to the soldier’s leg. His foot cranked from 3 o’clock to 9 and back to 3 and back to 9. The soldier glanced at him, unnoticed.

    “Aight, man,” the young man said on the phone. “We going out drinkin’ when I get back?”

    The soldier again ignored the young man and stared straight. There was a man, whose legs did not work, sitting in a chair near the gate. This man slid a book into his backpack and used his hands to slide himself forward in the seat so he could sling the bag over his back. His spine had a nasty bend, but otherwise he looked at peace. The gate attendant spoke into her microphone.

    “Ladies and gentlemen, Air Canada flight 3740 to Toronto will be boarding the full cabin shortly. At this time, we would like to invite all active and former military members and all those with disabilities to the gate. You may board now.”

    The soldier stood, picked up his bag by its two straps, and put it over his right shoulder. He saw the man in the front using his crutches to lift himself off the chair. The sticks gripped his wrists like handcuffs. The young man got up, too. He swiped his tiny duffel and swept past the dozens of people toward the gate. The soldier walked in parallel with him, eyeing the impatient young man, but stopped instead beside the man with the crutches.

    “Look at this guy,” the soldier said.

    By then, the young man had caused a stir in the waiting area. The passengers, who were mostly on their cell phones paying no attention to the attendant’s message, had seen the able-bodied, non-military young man race to the front, so they had all lined up behind him. The young man, meanwhile, had just interrupted the attendant by shoving his boarding pass in her face. The soldier saw the woman’s open-mouthed grin, which said “what the hell?” She looked like she took great pleasure in telling the young man that the flight was not yet ready to welcome him. Most of the passengers in line behind him were buried in their phones and hadn’t noticed anything was amiss. The man with the crutches exhaled a quiet laugh.

    “That boy,” he said, “is more disabled than I am.”

    The attendant extended her smile as she spotted the two early-boarders waiting patiently on the outside of the line. She summoned them with a wave. The young man about-faced to see who she was inviting to board. They walked and crutched their way to the front of the line, the soldier slowing himself down to keep a kind pace. The disabled man handed over his boarding pass first.

    “Do you need any help, Mr. James?” the attendant asked as she scanned the thin, creased paper over the glass. A red light changed to green and the machine beeped its approval.

    “No, I’m fine,” he said.

    “Just let anyone on the flight know if you do. They’ll be happy to assist you with anything you need.”

    “Thanks, I will.”

    He waited for the soldier as the attendant pressed down his pass. Green. Beep.

    “Thank you for your service, Mr. Kalsy.”

    “Yep,” he said.

    The two men walked down the ramp toward the plane, away from the fidgeting young man and the rest of the undead passengers.

    “I don’t think I’ll ever know how to respond to that,” the soldier said. “One time I flashed a thumbs-up at some person and walked away.”

    “I don’t think they really care what you say back to them.”

    Reply
  12. Nadia

    The solider helped the me into the car, struggling a bit to carry me. He almost threw me into the back seat. He then hopping into the drivers seat as bullets came whizzing past my head. At times like this, I wished I had legs. As the sergeant sped away from the mafia, the scene outside blurring all together to this one, huge blob, I looked down at my stumps of legs. I still remember the car accident… but the sergeant pulled me out of my thoughts my muttering something to himself.

    “I’m wasting my time with this worthless cripple” he said under his heavy breath, taking a sharp turn to the left and onto a narrow road. I quickly snapped my head towards the man, my eyes squinting at him in annoyance. “If it weren’t for me, that gun that is sitting at your side, would not be there,” I spat at him, “I invented it” I finished, pointing to the large gun. The man didn’t reply, just kept on speeding away from the danger. I knew I wouldn’t get a reply, so I turned towards the blurring landscape again.

    Reply
  13. Will

    There was no denying it: the man on the bed next to Gus’s had his legs missing.

    Gus tried his best not to stare. He was in a hospital, and his conscience told him other’s problems were more serious than his own.

    So for the first couple of day s of his internment, Gus didn’t speak to the legless man, and he didn’t speak to Gus. Until the third day.

    “What are you in here for? Must be nice not to have your legs blown up.” The man had muttered the last sentence, an aside to himself and nobody else.

    Gus merely confessed that he was experiencing stomach problems.

    “So you haven’t been fighting? You left?”

    “I finished my years of service, came back home. I was only allowed to come here because I’m a veteran. I guess.”

    The man heaved himself into his bed, letting out great puffs of air from the effort. Gus didn’t speak; he didn’t feel like they should be chatting. Gus noticed the man’s near emaciation – he had suffered in action, and the doctors were having ha hard time with his recovery.

    “I stepped on a minefield.” The man laughed raucously. “Just kidding. I’d be dead. My legs were just pulverized by bullets. Had to amputate.”

    Gus didn’t reply: how could he?

    “You know,” the man continued, “I think having “stomach problems” is even worse than losing your legs. Your stomach’s like the core of your body. If something’s wrong with it, everything else gets screwed up.”

    “I thought that was more like the heart,” said Gus. “Or the brain.”

    “Nah, it’s the stomach. ‘Cause when things really go wrong there – it messes with your head. Or is that the other way around?”

    Gus swallowed his pills, and said nothing.

    Reply
  14. Lele Lele

    “Hello,” a woman said from the door. She knocked again. “Is anyone here? Sir?”

    He grimaced as he tried to stand up from his seat. The TV is still on, running shows, but he isn’t watching. He grabbed for his cane that’s just barely out of reach.

    “Argh,” he said. His arm got stiff, but he still went for it.

    “Sir,” she said. The door unlocked and she pushed it open. “Hello?”

    He blinked. She had an army uniform. It was green camouflage. It was fit and he spotted a couple of badges or stripes.

    He stood up on his cane, grunting, and held out a hand. “Hello, Ma’am.”

    The army woman smiled as she reached for his hand and shook it.

    “Thank you sir meeting me,” she said. “I’m sorry for the intrusion but the door was open and no one was responding…”

    His hand clenched and she stopped shaking. He forced out a laugh.

    “I’m not exactly,” he pointed to his prosthetic foot as he said. “the most responsive man alive.”

    The woman looked down and blushed. “I’m sorry, sir.” she said. “Well now that I’m here.”

    “Why are you here, Miss?” he said. “Army scout cookies?”

    She looked up and her smile disappeared. “No sir, I’m here for your discharge papers. You’ve been neglecting them,” she said. “At least that’s what my superiors are informing me.”

    He took the papers she held out. It was an envelope and he had his name on it. “I was never formally enlisted,” he said. “I’m not, this is not-”

    The woman got wide-eyed. She slowly took the papers from him and she read it slowly.

    “But it’s your name on it, sir.” she said. Her lips flattened as she read again. “Your name.”

    “Miss, if this is a prank.” he grumbled. “If you’re real officer.”

    This time her face went full neutral. She shoved the paper to him with all the neutral politeness.

    “If you could reply with the appropriate information, Sir.” she said. “That would be most satisfactory.”

    Reply

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