There were several other Visiting Scholars at St. Benedict’s Monastery while I was there last week. One of them was a man named Michael Maurer, who was doing some work on a novel he is writing. I learned during a conversation we had one evening that this was his first foray into novel writing, having previously put his writing energies into poetry. He gifted me with a copy of a book of his poems, titled A Journey Through a Warrior’s Soul.

Maurer is a veteran of the Vietnam War and, like many vets, still carries the scars of that experience. You can see it in his face and hear it in his voice when he speaks, and he speaks with an incredible honesty. His poetry bears powerful witness to the tragedy of war though his vivid images and compelling stories. They make for some powerful reflections at a time when we are still sending young men and women off to die.

Many of the poems touched me deeply. One struck me for the truth it speaks, not just about an experience like war, but about all that we experience. It reminds us everything we have undergone becomes part of the fabric of who we are today. The name of the poem is Foundations, and I share it with Mike’s permission:

Our past, the good and the bad
Is the rudder of our future.
It is the foundation on which we are built.

“Let it go, forget it: Some say,
But to deny our past is to deny ourselves.

Holding on to your past, embracing it,
Allows you to grow and learn from it,
To build your future on a strong and honest foundation.

Vietnam is my past,
One of the walls of my foundation,
The good and the bad,
All that I learned
About life, about death,
About love, about friendship,
About hate, about fear,
About ignorance and about arrogance,
But mostly about myself,
It is imporant to embrace and remember all of it.

It is not all that I am,
But it is part of my foundation,
And part of who I am.

We are not defined by our painful experiences. But they don’t ever go away either. They form part of who we are.