Friday, August 7, 2009

Honor Thy Children

You probably know the saying. It goes right along in the commandments with “love God” and “treat others as you want to be treated”.

How come it doesn’t instruct us to love and honor our children, as specifically as the other rules do?

Because I’d like to do that right now.

Two days of no communications from Zach meant that a death had taken place. I have personal feelings now about the young men who are killed in Afghanistan. They are not just numbers glossed over in the news. They are part of my family's life now, because my son may be part of the team who picks up their body and begins to escort it home.

It is difficult for every single person who is part of that escorting process.

When we love someone deeply, we want to share their lives, even – and perhaps especially – the difficult parts. That is where the work of love happens. The rest of it, the easy parts, are just fun. Love looks in at the difficult parts, and even when flinching, holds out its hands to help.

So, while we learn as a family what it means to love someone who is at the front parts of a war, we are learning to look at those difficult parts too.

When Zach does not call Courtney, I know someone has died.
There is no need to turn on the television. There is a website I go to now to find out:

And there are the names, and the provinces in Afghanistan, and what the young man did, and how his death happened.

This is all so hard to write. These are human beings, loved by other people.

Zach called Courtney early this morning to talk after the communications blackout had been lifted.

On Tuesday night, they escorted the body of a young man who had been killed back to the camp. Zach spoke of it briefly to Courtney. This time, it was not a small and precious box, but a bag holding the soldier’s body to take home.

Are there gentler words? If so, I would like to know them. We must choose the most gentle, respectful words there are.

Right now it is a Friday night in the small, happy town where I live. My husband has just helped the local fire company set up an outdoor movie, and there are literally hundreds of families outside in the beautiful night air watching Kung Fu Panda from their lawn chairs, happily munching popcorn under safe, quiet, starry full-moon skies.

I am writing outside in a white rocking chair. Comfortable. Safe.

Our oldest son should be just finishing his flight duty for tonight. It would be about 4 am there.

When I was his age, I was cocktail waitressing during the night and water-skiing during the day and generally having the time of my life. Almost no responsibility what so ever.

I would like to extend admiration to my son as crew chief, and to the pilot and co-pilot of the helicopter, and the AO and the ground crew for having the presence of mind and learned skill to crew an enormous helicopter; to get that multi-million dollar bird safely maintained, loaded, up, out and back, and to watch the whole time for someone who might try to attack them.

This is why I would like us to honor our children, honor what they are capable of, so young, and so strong. As they are flying over hamlets and homes, the people looking up at the helicopter do not know the individuals flying in it, or the cargo of the plane, or how those in the plane are affected by what they are carrying in the plane.

If I saw an armed helicopter fly over my patio right now as I sit in the rocking chair, and saw Zach or Scott pointing a gun at me, would I feel safe? And what about if they looked different from me, came from another land, were dressed completely differently in battle gear? Would I feel safe?

Not likely.

But they do not know how hard these young men have trained to be able to control their emotions and assess a situation clearly and intelligently.

If my son needed to do so, he would not hesitate at all to follow protocol and fire.

But they do not know how respectful he is of human and other life. I know him. He thinks quickly. He respects life of every kind. He would not fire inappropriately.

They do not know that my son is one of the kindest, most laughing people I have ever had the privilege of knowing.

They do not know how good his pattern recognition is, how quick his eyes are.

They do not know how safe they are with him over them, even though he may have a gun trained right on them.

The mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters and girlfriends in Afghanistan worry like we do.

I wish I could say to them, who are living with this war as we are, but so much closer to it: there are two boys from Hereford, Maryland up there over you. They may be carrying soldiers to the forward bases, or food to them, or medical supplies, or Humvee parts. They may have cartons of mail to soldiers who are hungry for news from home, or reassuring mail from them back to their families here.

Or they may be escorting not mail, not supplies, but something far lighter, and much harder to carry.

No matter what the cargo, no matter how they feel about it, they will manage their feelings and do their job. And underneath all the training, all the restraint-in-response, all the readiness, are young men who have good hearts.

War is the crudest form of diplomacy. And yet, it can accomplish good every day. As they fly over, the opportunity for peace exists between you. I can give you my word that they will honor it. Our sons are strong, and good. Look up, and trust.

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