I just finished reading an article that I hope is a practical joke. I hope that the news organizations got the story wrong, or that there was a miscommunication between the parties involved. The story, is about a family flying to Dover Air Force Base, to retrieve the remains of their son, a soldier who gave his life in Afghanistan. The story, is about people on the airplane booing because the pilots requested the family be allowed to exit first, in order to make their connecting flight. A reasonable request, an honorable request. My initial reaction was anger, after a few minutes it has turned to frustration. At the end of the day, I don’t know why I am even surprised.
I understand. People take things for granted. I served with the hopes that my children would not have to. I served so that others would not need to. When I read things like this article, it makes me want to grab people by the ears and scream in their face. It makes me want to track down the passengers sitting in first class. It makes me want to force them to understand, to show them how heartless their simple act was. But they won’t, I don’t think most ever will.
We have been at war for a decade and a half, and we will be for another, at least. There is no end to the war on terror. This is the world we live in now. The odds of being involved in a terrorist attack are microscopic, but just like all statistics, if you find yourself wrapped up in an event, they are irrelevant. The odds of being bitten by a great white shark are about 1 in 3.8 million, but that doesn’t help you when you are being crushed between rows of razor sharp teeth. We will always need lifeguards to help us in the water, and we will always need people standing with their toes on the line to protect us. Always.
Most will never know the feeling of a phone call in the middle of the night telling you to come to work. The caller unable give details because family notification trumps information dissemination. Most will never experience a drive where you can barely keep your car on the road; your mind consumed with the faces of friends, knowing that at least one of them is coming home in a coffin.
Most will never arrive at a house devastated by grief and sit in a room full of family, asking, begging to be told stories about their son. A room forever locked in the past, because the past experiences are all they will ever have. A room where mothers hold on to the memory of their children, where their children’s’ children sit on the floor, too young to understand what has happened. Children who will have the most important role model in their life replaced by pictures, stories, and a headstone.
Most will never know the guilt I feel watching children grow up without a father, while I am able to tuck mine in and give them a kiss goodnight. Most will never know the feeling of seeing a man in the face of a child; reflections of the father they will never know. Most will never know what it feels like to know a man more deeply than his family ever will. To have shared the most trying moments of life, to have shared in sadness and joy, to have celebrated and mourned, to know the meaning of their family, and to never have the words to describe it to those they leave behind.
Most will never know the feeling, the hollowing of your soul when you receive the news that a friend, who has no blood relation, but a bond stronger than family, has died. Most will never know the power of hearing bagpipes at a funeral, the immediate emotional reaction, the tears brought to your eyes. Most will never know the guilt of missing a funeral, the chance to say goodbye, the chance to honor, because you carry too much emotional baggage to put on your uniform. Most will never know the feeling of burying man after man, each one better than yourself.
Most will never know the feeling of receiving a phone call, only to learn that the child you protected, loved, raised, cherished, agonized and worried over night after night, has been destroyed and is coming home in a plastic baggie. The implements of war are violent. They tear, rip, burn, and destroy. It is a violent and unforgiving series of events; the end is rarely anything but ugly. It is not the movies; it stays with you for a lifetime. Most will never have to experience this, because others are serving are sacrificing to make sure YOU don’t have to.
When I read articles like that it makes me sick to my stomach. I would like to believe this is not who we are, but I am starting to doubt it, I see shades of it everywhere. I see protest of our flag by those who have never lifted a finger to defend it. I see people demanding the ability to do whatever they want under the guise of “rights” they have never spent a second fighting for. I see a society of self-centered, selfish, bubble wrapped debutantes. Everyone wants the promise land, no one wants to put in the work to get there. There is no time for anyone else, there is no appreciation.
This week, while you are wondering which sides to have with your stuffed turkey, others are wondering if they need to put side plates into their body armor. Their choice is not between mashed potatoes and stuffing, it is between grenades and ballistic helmets. While you sit in line at Starbucks for your pumpkin spice latte, bitching about your commute to work, they make instant coffee in a plastic water bottles, formulating plans to survive another day. It is easy to forget about them; they aren’t your sons or daughters, it’s not your husband or wife.
They are the sons and daughters, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers to families all across this country. Those families live in a fear you will never understand. The fear of a knock on the door by men in uniform, of a phone call in the middle of the night. They live with a feeling of instability and uncertainty every day. The dread of having a memory instead of a family member. Imagine those fears realized. These families are all around you, and in their worst moments, they need you to be at your best. If you can’t make the time for a family trying to reconnect with someone who has sacrificed their life for you, you are not deserving of what this country has to offer.