The war has also placed me in a new relation to Homer's ambivalent epic, for I have awakened, after all, to find myself a woman like Penelope, who sits at home waiting for news of of soldiers who have gone to war. I can tell myself I am not a mother-not a listener and watcher left behind- I can weave that tapestry every morning, but at night it all unravels to reveal that the fates have conspired to cast me in the the most ancient woman's role of all. ~Elizabeth Samet, Soldier's HeartWhen one works closely with the military in a time of war, be at in a volunteer capacity or some other role, there are certain realities one must face. Chief among those is the fact that you are building relationships, often close relationships, with people who have a higher than average risk of being killed. Nothing you do, or say, or hope, or hide behind can change that.
If you live in a community like mine, you will also find your family members, friends, classmates, church friends, and acquaintances heading to the same wars while you head off to college. The people you start a class with may not be there towards the end of a semester- called instead to face a real life crucible in the sands of the ancient epics we read about. They may return in a year, or disappear into life as an afterthought to the rest of us as we slog on towards graduation.
Sometimes the soldier you volunteer to support is a friend from home, or might as well be. Sometimes it is your best friend.
Hiding in the shadows is reality--these people you knew as playmates, rivals, or just "that guy" might just disappear forever.
While working with Soldiers Angels, I have had several soldiers and Marines I knew in various ways who didn't make it back home. Each of these is difficult. These losses are also hard to explain to most people. If I express grief or sorrow, they often retort: "But you didn't really know them, right?" Technically, this is true. But it still hurts.
My hometown has lost 6 of its sons in the war. If we count the surrounding counties, that number grows larger. If we count the whole state, well, the number swells to over 100.
In one of my last undergraduate classes, the prof asked the question: "How many of you know someone who as been killed in the war?" There were 40ish people in the class. Roughly two-thirds of the hands went up. That number may be skewed by the demographics of the student population, the type of class it was, presence of ROTC and Guard units in the area, and a specific time frame-the high school friends we graduated with who went into the military finished their training and were hitting the ground when Iraq operations were hot- but that is what it was.
My hand goes up for a childhood friend and classmate. This is the loss that is most raw for me. I pray to God that this does not change.
The anniversary of his death is coming up soon. As is nears, the sense of sadness grows. These things always make me stop and reflect.
I think of all things I have done since it happened. These are things he won't ever get to do. Like the soldiers in Laurence Binyon's poem from the First World War, he will not grow old. He will always be the same in the pictures. His face will not gain the subtle changes brought on by maturity that I am just beginning to recognize in my own.
I plan on writing more about him in the coming days but suffice it to say:
He is missed.