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Here in New England | The Man Who Listens to Soldiers

Here in New England | The Man Who Listens to Soldiers
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Here is another, one of the first Vermonters to die in Iraq. He left a wife and a son: “We were at a ceremony at the Fallen Heroes Memorial. And I see the boy. He’s now maybe 11. I see he’s wandering around by himself. I say, ‘How you been?’ Quite a day to be here, huh?’

“‘Yeah, I don’t understand it all.’

“‘Well, you belong here.’

“‘Yeah, I know. What is this wall here?’

“‘All the guys who’ve been killed in the war, their names are on the wall.’

“‘Oh, so is that what those plaques are?’

“It occurs to me that nobody’s brought him up there to see. It was one of those moments where I say to myself, ‘Who am I? What should I say?’ I say, ‘Do you want to go up and take a look?’ And he holds my hand and we go up.”

A second wall in Coffin’s office is filled with eight self-portraits, drawn under the tutelage of a Santa Fe artist. They’re vivid, strange, luminous–a man with eyes so large they’re like wild moons within a face. “Something emotional comes out when you do these,” Coffin said. “It’s a guy I’ve dreamed about. There’s not a good name for it; maybe he’s an angel or a spirit ally. I call him ‘Rondal.’ In a dream I was climbing up a deep, circular turret made of stone, like a dungeon. Out of the corner of my eye, there’s a guy with a knife waiting to kill me. And my guy, my spirit ally, took care of him for me. Sounds crazy, but I sure like having him up on the wall surrounding me.”

In his own way, Coffin has also been the protector of soldiers he feels should stay home. One soldier’s father lay in a hospital bed in the family’s living room. His wife, with two small children, would need to care for him. “He wanted to go,” Coffin said. “Nearly all want to go. They train together; they’re in this together. But I had to make him understand that there can be a nobility in taking care of people here, too.”

Another soldier had already deployed once; his wife said that if he deployed again, she would leave. “The three of us went to a quiet place for coffee,” Coffin said. The more he listened, the more he realized that there were compelling reasons beneath the surface for the soldier to stay and keep his family together. He made sure the soldier didn’t deploy. Coffin didn’t tell them that once when he and his second wife were out to dinner with some other couples, “one of my wife’s friends said to me, ‘What’s more important, your marriage or your work?’ I made the mistake of answering truthfully.”

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