Good-Bye to All That


What Are We Looking For?

I was in my early twenties when JFK was assassinated and a few months away from conceiving my first child. That day and those that followed broke my heart. What kind of a world was this that I was eager to bring a child into? At the time, I worked at Northwestern University’s Deering Library. In going about my day as a low-level worker, student-wife without a college degree, I met Stephen Spender. I still have his autograph which I asked for and remember his wide smile, evidently charmed by my request.

Good-Bye to All That

goodbye2I forget how his suggestion that I read Good-Bye to All That by Robert Graves came about, but read it I did, and had the feeling I would never forget it. Why?

Graves’ funny yet poignant account of his life and especially World War I had little to do with my grief over the assassination, my life, or reading interests, but the experience of reading that book stayed with me. This year, when the anniversary of the assassination came around I determined to go back and see if the book still moved me. I found the same 1959 edition I had read at Northwestern at my local library and hurried through the book.

On page 255 I found a thin, blue appointment card stuck between the pages. I dislike finding other people’s “stuff” in my library books, but am always curious. It was right where Graves’s friends and fellow writers were adding up their losses—including their sanity and injuries.

The Blue Card Inside

The card was printed on both sides. One side had various Seattle numbers for VA Outpatient Mental Health services. The other side was entitled PTSD Outpatient Clinic and empty lines for the name of the provider and an appointment date and time.

I finished reading and acknowledged that after so many past and current wars, I didn’t experience the book as before. But I did wonder what prompted this anonymous person to read the book. Were they, like me back then, looking for some way to make sense out of what remains senseless? Maybe a war they had fought—Iraq? Afghanistan? Vietnam? I will never know but can only hope that he or she found what they were looking for in the same way I had back then.

Why do certain books take hold of us, like old friends we still think about but haven’t seen in a long time?


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