Monday, October 5, 2009

Arrgh! I Might Have To Get The Tattoo After All.

I promised myself to be honest with this blog. Not to worry about who was reading it and why, but to just honestly record for our family and for myself what the experience of having our son in Afghanistan was like.

So, here goes…again.
I’m scared.


Dammit, I get so mad at myself. Because it’s unnecessary!
I’m not scared because Zach is in some great danger.
I’m scared because I’m inclined to fear.
Yep; a little kid would call me a scared-y cat.

A scared-y cat is afraid to touch the things other kids would touch. Afraid of stupid stuff. Well, I have been afraid of things my whole life. I keep thinking I’ll beat fear, finally; but it keeps coming back in a different form. I'm always scared of something.

So, I’m saying to you, Fear…let’s tango again.

I wrote this blog several weeks ago, and life was really busy, and a couple of days passed by and I didn’t get it up, and then it was out of sequence, and it sat on my computer. And I thought, oh, I won’t have to post this one. I’ve gotten my fear under control.

Well, I woke this morning, counting hours again, and realized, no…it’s getting ahold of me again. So it’s time to put this one up.


Dammit, damn it, damn it.

…counting hours? That means I take whatever shift Zach is working and, even though he hasn’t told any of us the hours of the shifts, Courtney and I have each tried to guess what time they start and stop. (We had very different ideas!) So I count the hours forward from Eastern Standard Time to their time, and if I think his shift is over, I feel better.

Here’s why this is stupid:

1. He could have died from the freakin’ appendicitis, for God’s sake, had it ruptured during one of the long flights over to Afghanistan.

2. Him being finished flying doesn’t mean I know anything about how that day went. I only really know he’s fine when he calls us or Court texts me.

3. Gabe's accident, the writing below, and the death here of one of Zach’s classmates last week tell me regularly that he’s just as safe there, maybe safer, than folks here.

So here’s the post I wrote earlier. I’ll add the rest to the end.

I’m feeling reckless this morning, and I want to take it on.

Fear, that is.

When we tell someone our son is serving in Afghanistan, they get a horrified look and say, “Oh, I’m sorry.”

Well, I’m not.

I’m not sorry, because I was not afraid when he left. I got my act together for that, and now, I deal with fear if and when it comes up, and I am not afraid because I decided it was stupid and wrong and bad and wasteful to be afraid.

People say "I’m so sorry” because to them, Afghanistan means The Possibility Of Bad Things. Well, of course there is the possibility of bad things happening there, especially to soldiers who are serving on the ground and exposed to IEDs.

The days we don’t hear from Zach, it’s usually because communications have been shut down because someone has been hurt or has been killed and their family members are being notified.

The three ugliest parts of war are loss of life, loss of wholeness, and torture. Unfortunately the human race seems to be hard-wired to go to war. But that does not mean we have to accept it or ignore it.

But listen. It’s not all bad over there...and it’s not all good over here.

On Friday, my husband went to the funeral of a co-worker’s son. Heartbreaking.

He wasn’t in Afghanistan.

He was in Arizona.
He was just a kid who got caught up in things that hurt him.

There is risk everywhere. Sometimes people here are in more danger (uh, see recent posts!) than our soldiers there. Plus, our people over there are so well trained. So strong. So capable. So good. They are. They really are.

So, I see it differently. I choose to see that Afghanistan means opportunity: learning, horizons widening, new friends, trusting in yourself, growing as a person, appreciation for home, appreciation of another culture.

To me, the most beautiful word in the English language to me is possibility. And in Afghanistan, there is so much for them to see and learn and experience that is good.

This is not to diminish one iota the frustration, the stress, the danger, the heat and cold, the privation, the loneliness, the longing for home and the hard work that our people in uniform have to manage every day.

But they working so hard, trying to do good there. And they are justifiably proud of their work. They will come back here stronger than before, in every way.

The possibilities for good happening to each of them is significantly better than the possibilities of bad happening.

Let us offer compassion that is deep and warmth and healing to those families who have had to bear a death or a traumatic injury. Let us be strong for them, and let us help them to celebrate life again, and the possibility of all the wonderful things that did happen, and should have happened for their loved ones, and can still happen in their hearts and for ours.

Possibility. Celebrate life.

And that was the end of that blog.

I thought when I wrote it that I had put fear to bed. Silly, silly girl!

Now, I am starting to wake up and regularly hear in my head Bill Murray in the old stupid movie Stripes bawling "Blowed Up, Sir!" in response to his leader’s question about a squadmate.

And I get angry. I get angry because I feel the fear slipping in. I start to have ugly images in my mind that I do not want, that are not necessary, that are not connected to the likelihood of things happening. Images created by fear to serve itself only. They do not improve my life in one way – so they are not of value to me. More importantly, they do not keep Zach safer in any way – so they are of no value to him. And if they are of no value to any of us…that means they are why am I allowing them to live in my mind?

I don’t have an answer for the question. But I’m sure as hell going to put it out there for others to think about as well:


Take that, Fear.
We’re on to your game.

You trick us into thinking you’re helping us… but you’re not. You don’t keep my son safe.

His machinery operating correctly, and good training, and his presence of mind and great co-workers, and a great ground crew, and the kindness of other people, Afghan and otherwise, and good weather and good luck – all these things keep him safe.

Note to my Christian friends who read this blog: you may say, hey, something’s missing from that list…! While I deeply respect the goodness of all religions, and I’m deeply reverent myself of Jesus’ teachings, Jesus never promised his disciples that faith in God or His ways would protect them against physical harm. In fact, most of them came to pretty terrible ends.

So, while I regularly pray for Zach’s and Scott’s safety, and for the whole squadron (and okay, for the whole world to live in peace and safety)…please, in the forgiveness that Jesus specifically requires of us, forgive me for not listing God on that keeping-them-safe list.

To me, it seems exceptionally disrespectful of those who have had to live through the death or traumatic injury to their loved one to somehow imply that God was okay with ignoring their prayers.

Nope. I don’t believe that. I believe that one of the things on the list above didn’t happen right, and I don’t for one instant believe that God caused that because of some “everything happens for a reason” intention.

Note to self: read Bad Things Happen To Good People soon, and Lewis Carroll’s The Problem With Pain, to see what they say.

Back to this writing.

I’m feeling really cocky and reckless now. I took on Fear, and dude, for now, I’m winning again.

Take that again, Fear. I’m not inviting you into the living room of my mind any more.

You snuck in again, lying to me that you were somehow protecting me, and I stupidly believed you again, and now here you are, talking trash and stinking up the place and making me feel bad and putting those terrible, terrible images into my head, and meanwhile telling me how you’re protecting me and I should feel you more often….

…well, no. NO.

You don’t keep me safe.
You don’t keep Zach or any of our men and women safe.
You don’t keep the folks here at home safe.

You tell me that you take care of me...but you hurt me.
You’re an abusive liar.

Get out of my head and my heart.
Get out of my home.

FUCK you.
(um, hey Mom…sorry for the language.)

Here’s what we’re going to do, Fear. We’re going to do the OPPOSITE of what you recommend we do. Instead of reverencing you, and letting you control us, …we’re going to be happy. Recklessly happy! Unfearfully happy! Unafraid! We’re going to choose life and celebration and possibility. We're not going to spend any time listening to you and worrying.

Because the truth is, fear diminishes life and destroys it. Fear takes away moments of gladness-now with threats of sadness-then. Fear tells lies about the odds.

Life is creation and creativity. Life IS celebration of what-can-be, and possibility.

Even in death.

This starts getting to the heart of celebrating even in the presence of death.
Not celebrating the pain of it; no: but celebrating the existence of the life that gave birth to love so great that it causes us pain to lose any of it. Celebrating the possibility of coming to full life again, and feeling happiness again, and celebrating again.

That is at the very, very core of choosing life over fear. Choosing faith in all the good things of life over how fear tries to take them away from us.

That, I think, was one of the things at the heart of Jesus’ teachings, as well as so many others. I’ll go on and on some other time about how Jesus chose kindness over rule-keeping, or chose inclusion over exclusion. These are the parts of the message that appeal to me. So I work on them.

There are other parts of the universe for which I have no answers: real evil, and what we do with it. Why Creation seems to require an equal balance of destruction. Still working on those bits.

Anyway, this has been a long post, and I thank you for your indulgence if you are reading it. Thank you for your understanding. Thank you for your thoughts in reply, whether you agree with me or not.

Thank you most of all for maybe standing with me and looking at how Fear tells lies to you, and maybe throwing it out of your house for a bit, too.

Your decision will help me get stronger. We’ll help each other.

And now, the tattoo:

I got a tattoo when Zach left (another story). I told him there was the possibility of me getting another one.

Think of kids taking a test, and writing the answers on their hand where they could surreptitiously look at it if they were in trouble during the test.

Knowing myself and my susceptibility to fear, I told Zach that if it got too hard for me during his deployment, if I started succumbing and feeling fearful, I was going to get the answer to the Test Of Life written on my forearm, where I could look at it if things got tough.

A tattoo:
Choose Faith Over Fear.

Oh yeah! That’s the answer! Now I remember!

Okay, I’ll do what I wrote on my arm. I'll choose faith over fear.

Faith that everything CAN and USUALLY DOES work out just fine. Faith in goodness. Faith in kindness. Faith in picturing all the good things that could be happening, right this minute.

Let’s forget Bill Murray and the stupid movie line. Forget drama. Forget stupid fear. Invite a good, happy picture into your mind of your loved one. For me, Zach’s in the dining hall eating dinner. I picture him laughing and talking to the folks he’s eating with. Making jokes as he bitches about something. Feeling good about being healthy and working hard. Feeling proud, deep inside, of what it feels like to hand off bags of grain to the Afghan people, or bring mail from home to the soldiers in the forward operating bases. Feeling proud of whatever work it was he did that day, the big bits and the small bits.

I picture him content. He tells us over and over how much he enjoys his work there.

Good. Good, good, good. Good to all. Let’s be good to all. That, bit by bit, may actually help keep our loved ones safe in countless little and big ways.

Thanks to those of you who also struggle with fear for your honesty and courage in facing it and fighting it.

And thanks for checking in. I may be at the tattoo parlor when you read this.



  1. Thanks for telling me about LEIF, I have missed his story very much and wondered what was going glad it is not the infamous " writer's block"!

    I will come back and re-read this post more closely when I have more time, and comment again because I am thankful you are writing this too! Our oldest son did 2 tours of duty in Iraq, as a tank commander for the U.S.M.C. So I know where and what of you write.

  2. Kathy is referring to a blog I wrote from December 27 through this summer:

    Kathy, I finally put up a post on that website to bring folks up to date. Thank you for helping me DO that - at last!