Nearly three years ago, the war zone came to my doorstep. Up until then the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had simply been topics for newspaper editorials, debates over coffee or, even worse, they were conveniently dismissed as death tolls rose or funds were suspended amid games of political puppetry. I always believed that I was more aware, more educated, more concerned with the overseas conflicts than the average American. This over-inflated view of my opinions was quickly met with reality when my own family and dear friends began deploying overseas.
I began to understand why some people cried at the sound of the National Anthem, why songs about soldiers can make a crowd hush, why seeing the American flag can conjure up feelings of both pride and sorrow, and why turning off the news is some people’s only way to survive stretches of twelve, fifteen, sometimes eighteen months of deployment. The news reports were no longer an invitation to interject my well-read, yet so uninformed, opinion of the war’s purpose and progress. They were instead an exercise in self-control of the mind, heart and stomach to not let each run off in the direction of worst-case scenarios. Each death reported, each dollar withheld, each casual dismissal of the war’s effect on everyday life, was now accompanied by the faces of people I hoped to see again soon.
It’s been a life-changing experience to send a couple thousand e-mails to half a dozen soldiers, my family and friends. I’ve waited anxiously to hear of return flights, I've bent over toilets after reading of overnight death tolls, and I can tell you this is more education than any news story could ever hope to impart. While the news is certainly still in my daily routine, my opinions are now balanced with a few additional (and humbling) facts: I have never fought in a war, I am not responsible for the safety of a country, and I have never received the remains of a loved one off an airplane ramp.
I could try to join the voices of so many who tell of the horrors of war, of families broken from the loss of a loved one, but I’ve learned the hard way that people often only pay attention to what affects their own heart beat or pocketbook. Whether or not we choose to be engaged in the layers of these wars, I hope that we can all keep one thing in mind. What one person discounts as needless, frivolous or unimportant, could be another’s son, wife or father whose mission was just labeled a failure, whose funding was used as bait for political games, and whose life was just called worthless.
It’s been an honor to accompany six family members and friends through their deployments. It was a gift to learn from you and a privilege to write to you. For those of you still overseas right now and for those preparing to return, I continually pray that God protects you and brings you home again soon. Tonight my hope is a simple one: I pray the sun would be warm, the water be cool, and the victories plentiful. I hope the sandstorms might lift long enough to give you some of the blue sky that most of us will take for granted this Memorial Day.