They carried all the emotional baggage of men who might die. Grief, terror, love, longing—these were intangibles, but the intangibles had their own mass and specific gravity, they had tangible weight. They carried shameful memories. They carried the common secret of cowardice barely restrained, the instinct to run or freeze or hide, and in many respects this was the heaviest burden of all, for it could never be put down, it required perfect balance and perfect posture. They carried the soldier’s greatest fear, which was the fear of blushing. Men killed, and died, because they were embarrassed not to.
I am reading war. How it is to be in war, to be a soldier, to face fear. This piece, excerpted from the brilliant short story by Tim O'Brien, is poetry. Read this small passage aloud, feel the rhythm, the mouthfeel of the words on your tongue. O'Brien writes of what it is to be a solider in Vietnam, slogging through jungle, fighting with your best friends. The entire story reads with uncommon music. The use of repetition, the way the story circles back to a common event, the magnification and contraction of phrases. If you have not yet read this classic, and if you wish to be a writer, then read it ==> THE THINGS THEY CARRIED.