On a recent Monday evening, a book club met to discuss the Greek play Agamemnon. It's a tragedy, about a king coming home after a long, brutal war. When King Agamemnon first shows up in his home city, a group of wise, old men don't know how to greet him. They ask, "How shall I hail you, how give honor?"
"When I read that, it kind of reminded me of when I came back from Afghanistan," Anant Shukla told the group, over Zoom. "Not so much about like, how do I hail you? But how do I even approach you?"
Shukla lives in Lebanon, New Hampshire where he's an emergency medicine resident at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. He was late to the meeting, after coming home from the hospital.
He's also an active-duty military physician and part of a virtual book club made up of several generations of veterans in the Upper Valley. They were reading a play written more than 2,000 years ago by the Greek author Aeschylus, who was a soldier himself. He fought in the Persian Wars, around the year 490 BCE.
Shukla says this awkwardness of coming home from war ― how people don't really know what to say ― he felt it when he first saw his parents after getting back from Afghanistan in 2019.
"I walked up to hug my mother. And the first thing she did is she held my hand, and looked at it, because it was tan and callous," he said.
The memory of his first interaction after returning from war sticks out for Fred Crowley too. He's a retired physician in Norwich, and he was a flight surgeon in Vietnam. He spoke up after Shukla.
"When I came back, both my wife and my mother were waiting there," he said. "And within the first 10 minutes, they both remarked on how much I had changed."
That came as a surprise to Crowley. "It really struck me when they said, 'Yeah, Fred, you changed,'" he said. "How, how? I didn't know."