Archives for: August 2012, 27
We were, and are, grateful, of course that he was spared in the successive attacks. But the delay in getting news gave our gratitude a sort of guilty quality. Marines had died, killed by renegade members of Afghanistan's police. The names of those lost had not been released. When we found that he was safe, our rejoicing was tempered by the knowledge that the enormity of grief and pain had been moved to another family.
We knew our prayers, prayers that he be spared, prayers that we be spared, were affected by the horrible zero-sum arithmetic of death. They necessarily involved the guilty hope that some other family would bear the burden. The ones who died had been the sons of other parents, the brothers of other siblings. And there would be new orphans among those who mourned.
His deployment in Afghanistan had ended. His tour was over, his six months had passed. The only thing keeping him there was lack transport. He was on standby. And he was still among targets.
Expressing anxiety to friends was a release that carried its own small price, at first. Well wishers thought they were giving additional words of comfort as they expressed opinions about staying in that war weary country. "I hope your stepson is safe" was often followed by some evaluation of US policy. We should leave. Or we've been there long enough. Or enough boys have died. Or too many have been lost. As if anyone would ever say not enough had been taken.
But I have been on the other side, trying to find something to say and failing. So I recognized the value of selective hearing. I quickly learned to screen out often inept words and accept the expression of emotion. The intent to comfort was all the comfort I needed to take. And that was all I conveyed to his mother. All that mattered, all we needed to know, was that we had another set of prayers from someone who cared.
Technology offers a great advantage that other wars did not carry. Text messages and a frequent Facebook presence would give to us occasional reassurance at just the right time.
One Saturday, messages stopped. There was nothing on Sunday. The Facebook entries were static. We watched the networks for some terrible update, praying for no news. Monday morning came.
I reminded his mom that communication had been completely absent during his transport to Afghanistan six months before. Surely the lack of word meant he was on his way back. She nodded absently. I knew I was trying to convince both of us.
I prayed anxious prayers to and from work. Monday night came. No word.
Tuesday morning was hard. Morning prayer was a tense, momentary release of anxiety. It was as much venting in God's ear as it was prayer. No word came Tuesday night.
Wednesday morning I woke early and wandered out. She was pacing. She had just left me a note. He was out. He was safe. He had, after all, been in transport all that time, with layovers at other bases on the way to his home base. I picked up her note. The last sentence referred to my reminders that he would be out of communication during the trip back. "You were right," it read.
On Wednesday, I joked with associates. "I believe I'll try something different today. I think I'll exhale." The receptionist, a wonderful lady, picked up on it. "If you're going to do that all day, you also might want to inhale."
He will be taking liberty soon, spending time with us. He should be here in early September. We do not know where some future deployment will take him, but for now he is safe.
The last few days have been a blur of quiet celebration. I've been mentally catching up with comments that meant little when they were spoken. bin Laden is dead. The leadership of al Qaeda is nearly wiped out. The terrorist organization is a menacing shadow of a former self. As of a few days before our own Marine left that country, 2,000 military personnel have died in Afghanistan. 2,000 families are without a loved one. God help me, I am grateful our family is not among them.
And yes, it is time to bring our troops home.
On Saturday, I teased my loved one a little as I handed her the note she had written. "I've mislaid my glasses. Would you read that last sentence for me?"
"You were right," she read.
"I'm not sure I got that. Would you mind repeating it?"
"You were right," she read, and added as if still reading, "this one time."
Life in this pinprick sized corner of the universe has become a vast ocean of relief.