May 18, 2006

Guarding Against Ache

I cried on the way home tonight. Driving home from school. I was listening to the radio and cursing the rain when the news came on with yet another roadside bomb story in what seems like a never-ending line of roadside bomb stories. I listened a little more closely for a minute, trying to figure out if this particular news was news to me: with the time difference it’s sometimes hard to know where yesterday leaves off and today begins. And then I just lost it.

Stories about people weeping over a death in Iraq often include some detail of personal connection. The media struggle with the same challenge I faced, trying to distinguish one event from another. The nephew of a guy who swims at the same pool we do. A kid who went to the local high school. The third soldier from this state in the past month. Someone whose mother tried to talk him out of re-enlisting, followed by a sound clip of her trying to make sense of it all, explaining that he died for something he believed in. There’s usually a hook. But this is not one of those stories. I don’t have a reason for why this day, out of all the days since March 20th, 2003, my get-through-the-day veneer just slipped away in the mud.

Do I need a reason?

* * *

When I lived in Philadelphia – a great town that I would happily return to someday – I learned to keep my guard up. Not a lot. Not consciously. But more than I ever had before, growing up as I did in a town that was smaller than my freshman class at college. Because Philly is a big city, and when you live in a big city, you figure out how to be a little careful. At least I did. And then I moved back to a small town, this time in New Jersey. When I went back to Philadelphia to visit, I had a great time cruising past all my old haunts, proudly remembering back routes I’d devised to avoid the Schuylkill Expressway, visiting with friends, treating myself to my first cheesesteak in years. And I never really knew the extent to which my level of constant, subtle wariness had been elevated during my years in the City of Brotherly Love until that return visit, when I could feel it kicking back in.

* * *

The rain let up a bit once I got into Kendall Park. I turned off the radio, wiped my tears, and got home safely. After dinner and games, tooth-brushing and jammies, stories and kisses, I started in on lullabies. My son has been going through a Wizard of Oz phase, and I’ve been teaching him the words to “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” because I’ve just had it up to here with “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead.” Somewhere, over the rainbow, skies are blue – for a moment, I was flooded with this moment of remembering. I was right back in that fierce protective flare up in your heart that comes when you’re holding a baby and suddenly imagine a room full of generals pushing pins into a map. I could feel my throat tighten and the tears threatening to start up again.

My guard against the three-year ache that is the Iraq quagmire will probably go back up tomorrow. I think I’ll feel it.

Help change the course.
And thanks to Mama Says Om for the spark.


Tracy said...

Beautiful. Oh, boy, I get it. I feel like screaming: people, get UN-ambivolent. Be for it or be against it, but don't be avoiding it. Not when people are dying. Our soldiers, Iraq's sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, children. Be present to it. We ever-lovin' patriotic americans owe at least that much. Why aren't more of us crying?

AscenderRisesAbove said...

I appreciate one more person standing up and saying 'enough'.

Chelle said...

Don't know if you know the music of Sarah Pirtle. On here most recent cd (I think) there is a song called "Home for Dinner - for Cindy Sheehan". I tear up (at least) everytime I listen to it. The chorus is powerful on it's own -
"Here is your bowl. I lift the ladle.
Sit down right here. Come to the table.
I have found out. War has no winner.
I want every mother’s child, every mother’s child
home for dinner."

Stacy said...

Well done.

Though you brought tears on in-class while 8th period was taking a quiz. Tears must be explained and so, in a class where we've been discussing the Vietnam war for the past week, we had a great discussion about Iraq and terrorism and violence and extremism and all the other excuses invoked to kil someone's baby.

My students get it and that makes me so proud.


Shelley said...

Thanks for your kind comments, everyone. It does help to be reminded that we are none of us alone.