20 March 2011
Fire in our Youth
"But, nevertheless, the generation that carried on the war has been set apart by its experience. Through our great good fortune, in our youth our hearts were touched with fire. It was given to us to learn at the outset that life is a profound and passionate thing. While we are permitted to scorn nothing but indifference, and do not pretend to undervalue the worldly rewards of ambition, we have seen with our own eyes, beyond and above the gold fields, the snowy heights of honor, and it is for us to bear the report to those who come after us. But, above all, we have learned that whether a man accepts from Fortune her spade, and will look downward and dig, or from Aspiration her axe and cord, and will scale the ice, the one and only success which it is his to command is to bring to his work a mighty heart." ~Oliver Wendell Holmes; An address delivered for Memorial Day, May 30, 1884
For the first time in seven years, I do not have any friends or family members deployed to a war zone. I do not have any adopted soldiers or Marines playing in any of the various sandboxes that they often find themselves in. Seven years of deployments. Hundreds of guys and girls. And for the first time, really, the relentless cycle of homecoming and goodbye, joy and sorrow, relief and danger has paused. For the entirety of my adulthood, the war has been my ever-present companion.
I knew the timing was going to work out for the first time awhile ago. I wasn't sure what to expect. Now that I have spent almost a month without sending a care package or writing a letter, without a phone call from an international number or a shopping list that including baking supplies, I am trying to wrap my head around the experience.
I don't give a lot of thought to my end of the experience. It is easier to just keep moving forward, to see all that needs to be done and to keep doing. But what does it mean in this generation to be a civilian that has worked so closely with the military in wartime? Lately I have been looking to the past for answers. To the women who ran local canteens, packed civil war era packages in sewing clubs, served in the volunteer ambulance corps, the donut and coffee girls of the USO and its precursors. I'm not sure I've found any answers yet but it is clear that the wartime experience is lifelong. It is an emotional, spiritual, physical, mental, epic kind of thing.
Even when you are not in the middle of it, the memories and emotions creep in sometimes unexpected ways. For example, there are songs I literally cannot listen to, tv shows I can't get through, and movies I can't watch. And I'm never quite sure when I will stumble across one of those things. Like that new show Coming Home. I saw a commercial for an episode recently and found myself sobbing without really even knowing why. I think mostly they were happy tears. Or take a documentary like Restrepo or a movie like The Dry Land or Taking Chance. I can see them multiple times and really not have much of a reaction to them beyond what you have for any movie. But then one day I'll watch it and something will hit me and bam- sobbing girl reaction. Rather inconvenient really, if you happing to be viewing with friends. But I think it goes back to the intensity of experiences and the never taking the time to process the emotions that go with them. I wonder if Elsie, Vera, or Florence had the equivalent experience and responses as well.
I guess without someone to focus on, I've had a little bit of time to think about myself in relation to the war and the last seven years. Sift through them a little bit. I came to the realization that there is a lot there to sift through.
In the midst of all this reflection a new documentary on the Patriot Guard Riders is being released. It features a few events that I have attended and some people that I am familiar with in passing. I get this invitation to go see it. I went back and forth decided if I should go or not. In the end, I took a pass because I'm not sure it is one that I want view in public. I'm not sure what reaction it will provoke from within me. I think for now it is better to see that one in the privacy of my own home, despite the camaraderie that exists amongst those of us who do the military support thing.
So what's the point of this rambling, jumbled mess? I don't know. I do think that Oliver Wendell Holmes got it right though, that "the generation that carried on the war has been set apart by its experience," and that to have your heart touched by fire in your youth is a pretty powerful thing.