The airports are filled with soldiers this time of year. I furtively watch and imagine their stories.
A young woman sits, almost motionless; even her eyes blink slowly. How hard is it to go home after a year of life and death in a war torn country that can’t be described? Is she dreading the inevitable questions? Her worries must be plentiful. Will her children remember her? Or will they hide behind their father’s legs and peek at her as a stranger? Will it be a comfort to sleep next to a warm body? Or will she lie awake, troubled, remaining an outsider because she can’t allow herself to be “home” when she will have to tear herself away again? Is she held together by her seemingly tough resolve?
A young man is pacing near the windows. How hard is it to have been home and be going back? His long-awaited leave is over after 14 short days. There had to be rivers of tears when he left his family. His sons are young to understand why he must leave again. But neither his father’s illness nor his children’s Christmas programs could take precedence over his duty. The holiday celebrated prematurely seemed surreal, but it will gain validity in the desert. Memories will sustain him over there. But the memories aren’t easing his journey back.
Even as I watch I feel blessed that none of my children have gone to war. I always knew that they would have been too fragile, too sensitive; to liable to be twisted and torn by the horrors they would see and be asked to share. The life of each of my children was too precious. I’m glad they didn’t go.
And I feel guilty over my secret joy. Because doesn’t every parent feel the same? Isn’t every father weighed down with the thought of his child lying awake in a strange land surrounded by death and danger? Doesn’t every mother search the face of her returning child to find a road map through the new mind created by war? I’m the lucky one.
It doesn’t matter how I feel about war: these soldiers are mine. I see my sons and daughters in each of them. In some small way, every life lost and every injury done to anyone’s child is mine to remember and grieve. I don’t often have the courage to look at those losses but today it is in my face.
Look at me: no bravery here! I’m an emotional wreck just imagining. Getting the nerve to speak with a young soldier is like wanting to talk to a celebrity; I know I’ll cry and my voice will shake. But I gather my own resolve and thank the young man for what he is doing for all of us. I tell him how sorry I am that he has to go back. I can see it in his eyes…I can’t begin to know…