The movement is not a religion, although Speakers are treated with the respect afforded to a priest or cleric. Any citizen has the legal right to summon a Speaker (or a priest of any faith, which Speakers are legally considered) to mark the death of a family member. Speakers research the dead person's life and give a speech that attempts to speak for them, describing the person's life as he or she tried to live it. This speech is not given in order to persuade the audience to condemn or forgive the deceased, but rather a way to understand the person as a whole, including any flaws or misdeeds.
My job on board the ship during these last seven months gave me special insights into what was happening on the land around us. While most people had a vague idea that bad things were happening on the shores a few miles away from our ship, I unfortunately had the rare burden to know in very specific detail just how bad things sometimes were on the ground. As it says in Ecclesiastes, "the more the knowledge, the more the sorrow."
When I came home, I was not only physically but also emotionally exhausted. I had spent seven months as a "rider" (someone not technically part of a ship's crew) on a ship where my job was (at times, but admittedly not always) to catalogue the deaths of innocent people. I couldn't talk about it with anyone on the ship, not even the Chaplain (mostly because he was a very weird dude), so I just bottled it up inside and did my best to smile. Upon my return, however, I was finally forced to confront the ugly truth of life, which is that good people can and often do die senseless deaths at the hands of evil men who very rarely get caught.
My trip to the hospital was essentially resultant to the confluence of several unfortunate factors all at once. I had just come back from halfway across the world, so I was dealing with major jet lag. The inability to sleep more than a few hours a day led me to drink inordinate amounts of caffeine, and also to smoke more cigarettes than I should have (I took up smoking on deployment as a needed form of stress-relief), and also I was drinking excessive amounts of alcohol to "celebrate" my return home. These things, coupled with the crippling amount of work I still had to get done at the office before they'd let me take leave, essentially all caused me to have an emotional and physical breakdown.
The official hospital report lists "anxiety" and "abnormal EKG" as my causes for admittance. While that is true, I think the real cause of my meltdown was simply the inability to continue dealing with the crushing demands of life, especially in light of my recent and disturbing discoveries overseas. One of the psychologists who interviewed me during the examination process quite astutely diagnosed me as having an "existential crisis" as a result of my troubling observations of the depths of human cruelty. I broke down in front of him as soon as he said it, because I knew he was absolutely right.
I can't even guess as to the actual number of people who died senselessly under my watch, but I know beyond a doubt that it is a far, far higher number than that of how many bad people we actually killed. Faced with this crushing realization for the first time in my life, I was forced to confront the depths of my own powerlessness; namely the inability to prevent good people from dying. I'm sure it's something that doctors, policemen, and many others deal with at some point or other in their careers, but to me it was on such a scale, and took place in such near-total isolation, that I was forced to internalize it all and save it to be dealt with at a later time.
Now that I'm home, I'm going to make it my mission to speak as openly as possible about what happened. Obviously I have some constraints, namely that a lot of what I did is classified, and also that some of it is still a little too personally troubling to discuss in intimate detail. Nevertheless, I feel obligated to say something on behalf of the dead, because they have lost the ability to speak for themselves.
Westerners live in a very tidy, ordered world. They exist, either by sheer ignorance or by self-imposed neglect, in a bubble of financially prosperous isolation that makes them immune to the suffering of people all over the world. Intellectually speaking, I always understood that on some level. Nevertheless, now that I have, for the first time, come face to face with the horrors that impoverished people all over the world take for granted, I feel I have a moral obligation to let the insulated Westerners know just how ugly life can be outside their bubble of prosperity.
Money isn't real. Money is a contrivance of advanced civilizations designed to simplify the process of exchanging goods and services. Yet all over the world, people are slaving away their entire lives to acquire this imaginary substance, and in some places people are even killing one another for no other reason than because it pays a few dollars more than subsistence farming. If we want to at least reduce (since we cannot truly eliminate) the influence of money on people's desire to do evil, then we need to fundamentally reevaluate its place of importance in our society.
My existential crisis is still somewhat ongoing, but thanks to the love of family and friends, I am gradually finding my way back to a place of happiness and hope.
What I want everyone to know right now, more than anything else, is that many good and decent people died on my watch while I was over there. Maybe they weren't American, and maybe there was nothing that could realistically have been done to prevent their deaths, but in the end that doesn't matter. Someone has to speak for them, or their deaths will have been meaningless.
Remember them, so that they may still live on.