“Find what you love and let it kill you.”
– Charles Bukowski
Three nurses and a radiology resident walk into a bar. They are young, single, female military officers who gather on weekends to drink cheap wine, eat overpriced sushi, and commiserate about their love lives (or lack thereof). Picture a scene from Grey’s Anatomy with a military spin on it. They are independent overachievers who have worked hard to get where they are. They are supposed to be living the dream, but life isn’t living up to their expectations. The joke is on them.
I was one of those nurses about fifteen years ago. I was a doe-eyed college grad, incredibly lonely, and my psyche was getting slammed by the realities of adulthood. The tragedy I absorbed daily as a military nurse was a rude awakening to my limited worldview; it had placed me in the fast lane toward spiritual and emotional deconstruction. Read: TOTAL MELTDOWN.
It was post 9/11, and young soldiers were coming home from the war with disfigured faces and limbs left in Iraq. Their young wives sat at their bedsides looking stunned. Aging veterans were facing cancer and long hospital stays with no family or friends to be with them. I also had patients with injuries from bar fights, gang wars, suicide attempts, and domestic violence.
If life was this rigorous treadmill of work and suffering, I felt like I’d rather not participate. I didn’t want to get out of bed, I started seeing a psychiatrist, and I felt powerless to change anything. I was working through my own story while also suffering from a state of “compassion fatigue,” in which the suffering of others was creating secondary trauma in my own life. The question that echoed through my mind was “Is this it? Is life some kind of sick joke? Please tell me there is more!”
Growing up in a Christian environment, I was taught to cling to “the hope of heaven” when times were tough. I’d learned that our present struggles were brief in the grand scheme of eternity, but this only made me feel guilty for struggling. What I really needed was a bit of heaven to come to me in the ordinary moments of my present life. Life didn’t need to be perfect, but I needed Jesus now, in the midst of the horror, not stored up and saved for later.
I suppose we all come to a place like this at some point. We know we need to find a new way to live because our previous worldview has been shattered.
We have to shift our perspective in order to keep functioning. We must unlearn everything we thought we knew.
Since my twenties, I’ve undergone multiple deconstructions. I’m realizing it never stops. Whether it’s kids or moves or marriage, a new job, an illness, or a major life change, aren’t we constantly required to redefine what life is and how to live it? Perhaps accepting the fact that we have no idea what’s happening is the first step toward freedom.
As I get older, I often ask myself what makes life worth living, both for myself and others. Perhaps this question is what leads us to our calling—that thing we love so much we will let it kill us. As the great poet Charles Bukowski explains, “For all things will kill you…but it’s much better to be killed by a lover.”
Last Saturday, I sat around a large table with a group of veterans. We spanned multiple generations, races, and branches of the military. My military and creative writing backgrounds have cosmically collided, and I now teach a creative nonfiction class through the Armed Services Arts Partnership. For the next six weeks, my students and I will be coaxing our personal stories out of the shadows and learning how to tell them. How do we take this insane thing called life and craft it into something beautiful and meaningful? It’s an art form that is becoming my life’s work, the lover I will die for.
What started out as a bar joke about four disgruntled young women drinking cheap wine together is turning out to be my passion. I’ve found that the most meaningful moments of life happen while gathered around a table—drinking, dining, conversing, writing, and communalizing our stories so we don’t have to go through life alone. I think we are all starving for this kind of connection. In these moments, I experience the heart of Jesus in the here and now. The sharing of stories continues to save my life.
Libby Kurz holds a BS in Nursing and an MFA in Creative Writing. Her work has been published in The Poet’s Billow, Relief Journal, Driftwood Press, and Literary Mama. A veteran of the US Air Force Nurse Corps, she now resides on the coast of Virginia with her family. When she’s not reading, writing, and keeping tabs on her three kids, she works as registered nurse and teaches poetry workshops. She is passionate about a good cup of coffee, bumming on the beach, and finding meaning in the ordinary moments of life. You can find her at www.libbykurz.com.