Helluva topic, this. It is one that we can all approach, but I’ll bet many won’t – it would come too close to the bone for some, and raise too many internal questions for others.
It is a question that invites comparison. People who might shiver in recollection of a time they walked out along a rickety old railroad bridge probably don’t care to boast about it to Audey Murphy. It is also a question that invites braggadocio or shameful tears in some…the kind of a thing that makes for a difficult cocktail party. Like the topics of religion, politics, and sex, it is best left to the bedroom, temple, and parliament building.
It also is a bit of a frightener for someone who is just sitting there quietly thinking for themselves, because it sometimes reminds them how close they came to not sitting there at all…
You won’t be interested, but here’s my two. Modest enough, but I still sweat in remembrance.
a. Belgium – Waterloo 1995. First pucker moment was watching the British portion of the 42nd Highlanders load their blank cartridges. They poured about 10 pounds weight of Spanish black powder into a metal wheelbarrow and then stood around it dipping it out of the barrow with tablespoons and other metal implements. Some smoked. The Australian members of the group smiled blandly and ran for the exit. I prepared my statement for the coroner, in case it was needed.
Next day I marched with the troops in my kilt, formed up on the field with the square, watched the Dutchmen next door try to enter Heaven by foolish operation of muzzle-loading cannon. I was on the side of the square nearest to them and acutely aware of the fact. Heaven was full at the time and was not accepting Dutchmen.
Then we all played soldier. We were attacked by cavalry, and had French re-enactors march on us, and then repulsed them ( to be fair, I found them repulsive too…) and eventually marched in victory towards them as they fired at us…we trusted that they were going to fire blanks. The day ended with none of us dying or getting our arms or ankles broken, and then we retired to the town to seek food and beer. As we were eating Belgian hot dogs in the street in front of the town hall we watched the French artillery try to break the windows of the town hall with overcharges of their field pieces.
We realised that they were, in legal and clinical terms, insane…and that the assumption that we had made of safety from actual cannon balls or bullets on the theatrical field was complete folly. We had been in danger of death for hours.
And all for no purpose – it was merely a sham….
b. Every time I sit down to the computer keyboard with the determination to entertain I run the risk of telling more than I should. Worse – I have used it in the past to exact revenge upon people who I feel have done me wrong. In one case a blind barrage hit a magazine and everyone heard it go up.
It is not fair on the bulk of the readers to have to sit through this, and I must resolve not to do it. I guess for many authors there is a fine line between using personal experience as grist for the literary mill and using it for poison. I still need to define that line. Or find a good recipe for poison grist…