March 11, 2007

What a quick and dynamic last 9 days. It began with my wife returning from Idaho a day earlier than planned, thanks to a major snow storm in Minneapolis, and then a moderately quick trip to North Carolina to get our daughter set up home for her husband’s return from Iraq. It was a great opportunity for the three of us to bond, work to help our youngest daughter, and then back home to strip wallpaper (clearly one of my least favorite tasks). I left my wife behind to spend more time with our youngest daughter and to help her clean their new to them house.

What did I learn this past week. Two important things. One about others and one about myself. These are not new learnings, but re-awakenings. It is the need to awake in me previous learnings that strengthen and reinforce me.

I met two young men this week, both in their early to mid-twenties who are Marines and were preparing to leave for 12 months to go to Iraq for a year. My own son-in-law is already there and will be home in one week. He has been fortunate to be in a job that does not require him to put his life on the line. That is not the case for these two young men and their families. I think they are probably representative of so many young men (and women) who are going to Iraq. There were no words of complaint, no recriminations, just a grim determination to do what they need to do. I cannot say they were at peace, but I also did not perceive a fatalism about them. They are going to do a job and they know they will be in harm’s way, potentially on a daily basis.

Each of these young men is leaving a wife behind. These stay-behind spouses are the unsung heroes in this war. Being there is a challenge to one’s life, but the danger these two young men are facing is very real. For the left behind spouse there are fears, uncertainty, and hope. The mix of emotions is so intense that I can believe at times it is probably almost overwhelming. In my own daughter I was selectively sensitive to these emotions and others in my family were not sensitive at all. My heart has gone out to those spouses who have been left behind.

Sure, this is not the first nor the last war that we will ask young men and women to put their lives on the line, but it is our current war. I am at an age where I have the opportunity to be reflective and the wisdom to do so. My sense of loss among families is great. We have not been touched by loss, but others have and it has changed them in ways we can only imagine. Some come through the loss and separation stronger. Others never get over it. The stay-behind heroes face pain, loss, and sometimes more devastating – the unknown. As I said, my heart goes out to them, but so does my soul. This is a time for inner searching to find ways to deal with the daily threat of loss. We must be there for them as a society and more importantly as individuals.

I have been changed by knowing these two young men. I am a better person for having had the opportunity to know them.

At this point my second learning point seems insignificant and selfish. I shall leave it for later – or for not at all.


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