Baker, James

Letter
Date:
November 4, 1941
To:
Mom
From:
Jim
November 4th, 1941

Dear Mom,

I am sure it is more than a week since I last wrote to you and I suppose you are anxiously awaiting for more news of me. Well Mom, I have some bad news for you but I do hope you will not worry about me unduly. This morning I had another operation on my arm. The doctor probed the wound the other day and he found three deep sinuses running out from the sides of the wound on the surface in the shape roughly of a star. These were all infected, in fact, they were the source of all the infection. So this morning he cut them open and cleaned them out and packed them with sulphamilamide. It was funny to feel and hear him working away, talking all the time as he worked, for I had only a local anesthetic and of course was fully conscious. Something went wrong half-way through, either he didn't put enough in or he didn't put it in the right place. Anyway I began to feel him cut and jumped for - though it didn't hurt very much (just a sharp burning sensation), I was all on edge, as nervous as a cat. My body was rigid and though I tried my best to relax, I couldn't seem to make my muscles obey me. He was very surprised and said sharply ‘Did you feel that?' I replied "I certainly did, sir!" ‘Well, you shouldn't have!' he said, then gave me some more shots with the needle. It was procaine he used and very quick in its action for though I felt him jab me, I never felt him withdraw the needle. I felt him snip with the scissors - not actual pain but just a sheering sensation such as you feel when you cut through several thicknesses of cloth. I am afraid I will be in here at least another month now. But I am resigned to it now and am resolved that as long as I know it is necessary for me to be here, I should not be idle. So I am catching up on my classical literature. At present I am reading "Biographies of Great Men" and "Shakespeare". I tried to read "The Pillars of Wisdom" but it was so hard to concentrate with the radio blaring all day long. It is slowly driving me crazy. I have to grit my teeth sometimes to keep from screaming jazz, jazz all day long! When they do get some good music it is shut off at once, as though they were afraid they would profane their minds by such ‘high-brow ideals'. I just have to shut my mind off from it completely, but you can see that if I had to concentrate on blanketing one half my mind, it would be very difficult to absorb any material that requires strenuous concentration. So I had to give up the "Seven Pillars of Wisdom", as it is very, very deep. Shakespeare is not quite so bad; I think I have found out the secret of reading him. It is to divide your mind into the parts played by the different characters and actually visualize the play in your mind as you read it, even going so far as the proper inflections of voice and changes in manner and expression. In this I have been greatly helped by the Shakespearean actors whom I have heard over the radio, for they give you the proper idea of Shakepearean dramatization. I have now a great ambition to see an actual performance and I intend to do so as soon as I can get to London.

From what I have outlined, I hope you can see what my ideas and ideals are and I hope you can see how I am complementing my - up to now, meagre classical education. I hope this will compensate for the disappointment you must have felt because - as you thought, I never availed myself of the facilities offered by the Canadian Legion. Well, the truth of the matter is that I am not entirely sure that an education gained in any subject under the hurried piecemeal way that life in the regiment necessarily entails is entirely good for me. As a matter of fact, I am sure it is not. To study properly requires relaxation and freedom from interruption, and a congenial atmosphere. These are simply impossible to obtain amongst soldiers in a barracks room. Ask Dad, I am sure he will be able to explain to you what I mean. And especially is it hard for me who feel so out of place amongst most soldiers because I am an entity apart from them. Their thoughts and mine are entirely different, their minds run in different channels from mine, even their speech is different from mine. We have no common ground on which we can meet either physically, morally or spiritually. I hope you don't think from this that I am a stuck-up prig who has an egotistical idea of his own importance, for honestly, I don't think I am or have. It is just that my mind recoils from their sordidness. I have seen and heard so much obscenity that I am mentally sick. Thank God I have also discovered some signs of decency upon which my little ship has been able to anchor itself.

But can you see that I am not wasting my time? Can you see what I am trying to point out the difficulties which I have continually to fight against? It is so hard to explain things to you because you have so little worldliness about you, even though we have had a very stormy passage up to now. I hope you don't think that that is intentionally as cruel as it sounds but if it is, I won't alter it, it is true. When I stop to think, I marvel more and more that the blows which life has dealt to you have seemed to pass so lightly by, leaving no mark for our eyes to discover. I am just beginning to appreciate how great is the greatness of my mother's soul and of her mind, especially when I compare her with other women. And that in itself I think, is worth these past two years, that in itself is an education that many people never find.

If - when I am discharged from here, I can get a more or less permanent position at some base unit (something that is somewhat permanent) then I will seriously consider these courses but as long as my life is so insecure, I would much rather continue in my own way. A plan is slowly crystalyizing in my mind and to put it into operation, I need as wide and comprehensive a background as it is possible to obtain and towards that ultimate goal, I am at present directing all my energies. But I sometimes wish ‘I' had more worldliness for I often find that after long and diligent - sometimes arduous work, I arrive one step higher only to find that someone else who started at the same time I did had arrived before me, as they knew the shortcuts and I didn't. But I console myself by the thought that my foundations are possibly more sound than his. I wonder if it is so. But sometimes I weaken and curse myself for all the things I am missing, the simple pleasures that so many men accept as their natural perogative. I envy them their complete immersion in self. I can never do a thing entirely selfishly for I have always to weigh the pros and cons. I am always looking ahead to the consequences and hardly ever at the immediate actions. And if I do, I almost always follow the threads that lead from them into the future. Can you see what I am trying to say or is it clear only in my own mind? I wonder.

Well, this has been a long confession, much longer than I intended and my arm is sore. So cheerio and write soon -

Love to all,

Jim



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