The deafening silence

I kept looking at the flashing colors and growing grey. I suddenly felt like someone had spun a dial and the soundtrack of my life was in French. It was familiar sounding but unintelligible. They kept replaying it, hoping the next time it would end different.

The baby forgotten on the floor, crawled over the tower of fresh folded laundry toppling it as he moved on his mission to create chaos.

An urgent voice reminded me I had responsibilities.  The baby cried unanswered in the rubble of toys. I scoop the baby in my arms and watch the second plane strike.  I couldn’t look away as I stared at the screen unseeing.

I stood in the mayhem, holding the phone unaware it was in my hand.  My husband was in Atlanta.  The dead airspace crossed the distance as we clung to each other.

Twenty years of orders and ironing creases had not prepared me for this. The knowing was deep in the recesses of my belly. They would call him back; crucial to the mission, critically undermanned and completely screwed.

His voice told me he had to go. Suddenly unbalanced, I dropped the phone.

All I could hear was the pounding of my blood in my ears and something in the distance. The baby was crying. I take comfort in his warm breath against my cheek as the broadcast marched on. This all looked so familiar but wrong, a well-known play on the wrong stage.  Palestine. Haifa.  Yemen. Barcelona.  Not here. Never.

“I’m ok,” I mumbled looking blankly at the phone I don’t remember answering.  She was leaving her office.  She was in the tallest building in Norfolk. There were rumors.  I tell her to leave. Now.  Quick. “Call me when you are safe,”  hearing the lie in my voice.

“Man up for God sake. Pull yourself together,” the nooks of my brain chide me. I heave the baby to my hip and move through the house.

Whimpering pulled my attention toward the highchair.  The phone slides down my chest as it slithered into my kitchen unwelcomed.  Fear winds itself up my calf like smoke,  rising in my belly. Silence. The skies over my house were silent. The absence of jet noise was a scream in a horror flick. The background music of a decade had stopped.  I grabbed the baby and went to the street.  Vacant of purpose yet filled with frantic movement, It felt apocalyptic.

I looked up and saw him. He took the baby and swept me against his chest.  “They are gonna pay for this.” He whispered dark in my ear.

Gone was the lawn mowing Marine. The hand of a warrior, powerful, dangerous, guides me towards the porch, passing the baby to his wife.

“Michael?” she whispered. A paragraph of question hangs unanswered as we watch him climb into his jeep.

Fear in my bones told me I would never be warm again. I felt the gnawing hole of loss for something so constant it was cellular.  That thing so quintessential American, I relish its absence abroad.

Gone. Forever.

Today, we remain a nation at war.

Today, Facebook will be filled with contrite saying imploring you to not forget- as if that were a luxury afforded those plagued by memories living in the darkness, seeping out to bring them to their knees.

Today, we question the value of the check we cashed. We look at the consequence of emotions run amuck.  Residual damage of broken dreams, the aftermath of a three day bender- blurred, dirty and too much to manage. This wasn’t the plan. These old men with broken souls staring blind parasites in young bodies.  What role do we play in the healing of warriors?

Today,  That day’s battle cry that rang across our land now bounces hollow against the wind- a thready wisp of the passion it once held.

Today, the silence is deafening.

Today, acknowledge the sacrifices necessary to keep this very fragile experiment we call democracy alive. Today- have the conversation about what role you play in the aftermath of war and the healing of warriors.  

Today,  just a minute- between your Latte and your Youtube search, your trip to the mall and your bottled water, as you fill your tank with gas or scan your filled fridge- send a prayer of thanks for the being born in a country that has such bounty, such blessing and such potential to believe that anything is possible -is possible.

Today, I can’t forget that deafening silence. Nor do I want to; the deeds unsung risk being forgotten.

Tell your children. Tell you friends. Tell yourself. Today.

RIP… Return if Possible

My father joined me for coffee this morning.  Watching the sun beams spotlight the dancing dust particles in the air, I curl up in the corner of my leather couch and savor our time together.

I sit in the silence of words unspoken.

The race track of my mind is filled with morning fog and worry. The worry born of a child in the city,  a child in the country and  a child on a journey.

Did I pack their bags with the right stuff? Or the wrong stuff? Or too much stuff?

I, I wasted so much time.

Time believing I didn’t have enough, missing what I had.

40 years of baggage,  finally off my back.

“How did you do it? Stay sane with 10 kids?” I ask every time.

“Did you see me?”

I hear his smile. No time to sweat what you can’t control.

The  reunion was spectacular.  The soundtrack of laughter replays in my head. All ten of us together. Again.  

You were missed. But you know that, you were there. Everywhere.

“Your burning daylight.”  My turn to smile with the hug of the familiar phrase.

Better get on with my day. Thanks for the coffee.

Missing Persons

Who do I miss the Most?

I guess when you pull the same card at random several times- apparently there is something that needs to be said.

I miss that little girl who believed anything was possible- that freckled faced kid with poorly fitting shoes and hand me down blouse-

Who believed orange colored bell bottoms with giant white daisies were the clothes of super heroes.

The little girl who would sit besides complete strangers and ask them deep, pondering questions like “Do you think butterflies cry?”  because it was the stuff that really mattered…

The girl who turned over all the money in her pocket to the man before her because he must really need it if he was robbing a seven year old. She wasn’t afraid- not until she went home and told. Then she was afraid of the shame. Of letting everyone down.  Of the realization that her mother was afraid of black men.  That talking to strangers invited “things like this.”

Then she became afraid and began to die- not in her body but in her soul where it really mattered.

I miss that little girl who would twirl wildly in circles with arms outstretched, oblivious to the stares her knotted hair and smudged faced invoked from Mother Superior.

The Little girl who sings loud with joy even if she sounds like a croaking frog because gifts come in all kinds of packages even some that aren’t pretty.

I miss the little girl who could run like the wind, wild with abandon to win the race, even if that meant she beat John- the cutest boy in the school.  The little the girl who didn’t know that girls can’t do math or that it is rude to take what you want.

 I miss the little girl who thought that May Day was the most sacred days of all because instead of praying to the bleeding man on the cross in the dark inside of a church, we sing our prayers to the beautiful lady statue we have crowned with chains of Lilly of the Valley and toss rose petals  as we dance in the sunshine. I miss that girl.

I miss that girl the most…

Build a Life. Don’t live one.

I find inspiration everywhere- a sign in a restaurant, a passing comment, the things that make my niece giggle- everywhere.  I try to stay open to messages the universe sends like road signs hidden in obscure places on the scavenger hunt that is life.

Ashton Kutcher is not one of my favorite actors. In fact, he is someone I have been fairly dismissive of over the past decade. Yes, he is an attractive man but he just struck me as so Sophomoric. His show Punk’d reminded me of every jerk I knew in high school and his movies filled with more of the same humor.

No one is more shock than I that today, I found myself doing a mental standing ovation to the man who made his career being a pretty face with an adolescent boy’s humor.

The video of Ashton Kutcher accepting an award at the Teen Choice Awards begins predictably with screaming prepubescents and close ups of pop stars dressed in ultra hip, cool fashions.

– “Let’s be honest- this is the Old Guy award,”  Kutcher begins, greeted by laughter and more screams.  He tells the audience because of that he is going to give them some advice he learned early in his life- about opportunity, about being sexy and about living life.  The auditorium is filled with more screams from an audience on the edge of their seats .

  • Opportunity looks a lot like hard work.
  • The Sexiest thing is being really smart.
  • Your life is yours to build.  

What?

No, YOLO?  No, live out loud on social media because there is no one more interesting than you? No, having fun is your birthright?   

The silence in the room was uncomfortable. The message may have fallen flat on the teens in the room, but it moved me.

I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.

This line of thinking leaves me paralyzed with panic from the finality of the exercise.  The advice I give to my students to stop looking at their careers as a single choice and more like an evolution based on life lessons and experimentation. Why is there only one choice? 

I am standing at a cross road. Looking for a sign.  

But perhaps what I should be looking for is bricks.

(I will include the link.  It is worth the 5 minutes of your life it takes to view sage advice from an unlikely source.) 

http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2013/08/13/famous-actor-reveals-real-name-gives-incredibly-insightful-speech-about-hard-work-and-generosity-at-teen-choice-awards/?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=story&utm_campaign=Share+Buttons

Gold Stars fall from the sky

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Some days, I wish I never quit smoking.  It isn’t the cigarette I miss but the catharsis. I remember sitting in the dark, staring at the glow of my cigarette as I exhaled smoke like a dragon. The very act of smoking is designed destruction- your lungs, the cigarette …all of it.

It all seemed very poetic.

Company in my solitude. Something to focus on- breath in, breathe out. The feel of smoke in my lungs, the taste on my tongue, the smell of sulfur from the match wrapped in intense concentration.

Now, I meditate.  It’s cheaper.  And you aren’t relegated to a windy hill.

But, today?  As I stand in the rain along side a dirty Illinois River looking at the monument to those who have lost their lives in the Middle East conflicts-  today, I could really use a smoke.

My brother in law was riding to Sturgis from Maine and asked that we meet him for a leg of the trip.  We just needed to decide where to meet.

In steps the universe. A video about the Middle East Conflict Memorial wall in Marcelles, Il showed up on my Facebook feed.

It is between Fort Wayne and Rock Island. Check.

It is only 96 miles south. Check.

It rained for 50 of them.  Sucked.

Four days ago, I didn’t even know this place existed.  Now I am standing in the rain with an ache in my heart staring at granite panels with thousands of names….. the grief washes over me to see a physical evidence of the cost we have suffered.

How is that even possible?

The monument is on the edge of a corporate parking lot, alongside the Illinois River. The dirty water is as grey as the overcast skies.

There is a disheveled look to the area; broken pavement, dirt and sand strewn about, the remnants of a 100 year flood that ravaged the area recently.

I imagine it looks like a war zone.

The rain adds to the experience as if the skies themselves are weeping.   Why should I be spared the dirt and the destruction they likely died amongst?

I look around taking it all in.

There are tokens left along the wall; military patches and plastic bracelets. Photos with hand written notes sharing details of who their loved ones were.

What made him laugh. Who he loved.

That he is missed.

I see three Bud Lights place in front of the panel containing the names of KIAs from 2011; placed in front of different names; promised beers amongst brothers.

I walk slowly along the panels. I find his name. Micha’s brother. I catch my breath and my eyes fill. I’m caught off guard by the rise of emotions that rock me.  I didn’t even know him, but to see his name on this wall is like a boot to the head.  I hear Micha’s voice describing his brother over coffee. Collier was killed in a mortar attack in Iraq weeks after his 21st birthday. He never bought him that beer. 

There are Desert boots are made into memorials filled with cement, flags and flowers; poignant and powerful. They are almost pretty.

Some one emptied their pocket of change, perhaps for a debt never repaid.

And there in the rain was one lone cigarette.

I need distance from the granite wall. I go towards the building to see the museum.

The museum was started when Illinois Valley Cellular realized that some of the tokens had been stolen or worse thrown into the river.

Who does that?

The museum is being reassembled. Volunteers had removed everything in advance of the rising flood waters.  There is love and tenderness in ever corner of the room, mingled with tears, and pain and loss.  The photos, the tokens, letters, medals are a story that can live on.

These tokens keep their loved ones alive.

The memorial is a privately funded.  It is a collaborative effort of a small community, small business owners and no small amount of commitment.  Every June, there is a Motorcycle run that draws tens of thousand of people to this little town for a ceremony that reads the names of the men and women who died in previous year. Thousands of people come to stand witness.  It took the government 20 years to recognize those lost in Vietnam. It took the government 60 years to recognize the sacrifice of World War II.  This wall honors the sacrifice within 12 months.

It is the only monument of its kind.

I wish there wasn’t a need.

The founders said they made the wall to say thank you for those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

I want to say I’m sorry.

So very, very sorry.  God Bless.

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Dust in the wind

We were supposed to have coffee. I have screwed up our meeting that last few times- said yes when I was driving and couldn’t write it down, so they slipped my mind like a leaf in a the river that is a post menopausal brain.  He would text to check if we were still on.  He would greet me with a smile and a hug.

So, this time, I set my alarm. I got up early, had my coffee.

And text him. I was proud of myself for being on top of things. I asked if I should pick him up or meet him somewhere.

He didn’t answer. I text again a while later, wondering if perhaps he forgot.   He doesn’t forget. I thought about military training and time. How the people in my life who served are also punctual. Punctuality has been my life’s challenge.

“I see you are running on Navy time.” The Army infantryman I interview would joke as I slid in just under the wire for our meeting.

But this is different. He would at least text me back and tell me he forgot. Nothing.

I sent another text telling him to call when he could and went about my day.

I read about the death of a young Army veteran in Idaho who has been missing for a several days. His family had been making frantic appeals on Facebook asking for help finding their loved one. He was missing. He had PTSD. He was in crisis.

The urgency was electric in the messages. Hope in the responses from people who thought they had seen him. It has been bouncing around for nearly a week.

Today- there was a simple prayer and an image of Erik Jorgenson in his Combat shirt and ACU pants looking softly at a puppy in his arms. Someone had photo shopped angels wings on him. Erik had taken his own life to end his pain.  But like a horrible virus that just keep mutating, his pain was merely transformed into the heart broken grief of his sister, mother, friends and battle buddies.  It was sad. I felt bad.  I did what many others did, I wrote a thoughtful phrase on Facebook telling his family how sorry I was.  And then I went on with my day.

But the universe has a way of shaking you awake.

At 1:42 pm I received a text from him.

“I’m sorry.”

“I had a rough night last night. One of my buddies I deployed with committed suicide and I found out last night.  I didn’t fall asleep until 6am. I just woke up.”

My heart sank. I called. His voice broke my heart. He tells me he is going to go run as he fights the tears on the edge of his voice.  He promises to call when he returns but he really just needs to go for a run right now.

I sit with the phone in my hand and think about how often he runs. He runs a lot.  Five miles. Ten miles.  In brutal heat, soft rain, doesn’t matter. He runs a lot.

Pushing his body to the point of screaming louder than the memories in his head, the pain in his heart and the loneliness that lives below that slow brilliant smile that fools everyone into thinking he is fine.

He isn’t fine.

There have been 7 suicides amongst the unit he deployed with.

Each death leaves another chink in his armor.

Each call puts another brick in his ruck that he silently shoulders alone.

His high school friends cannot understand.

He sees the fear in his father’s eyes.  He can’t even look at his mother.

So, he runs. He runs and all of his battle buddies are there as he pushes through the heat and humidity, losing himself into the dust in the winds of Afghanistan as he mechanically runs through the streets of his hometown.  He can’t run far enough or fast enough but for just a minute he is no longer alone.

And I wait.  And I weep. And I pray.

Please. God. Help.

This has got to stop.

The loneliest number

Twenty-two. Everyday. This is the number of veterans we lose a day to suicide. I don’t have the solution- I just wish people knew the problem. We are currently engaged in the longest war in American history. Every morning I wake up and send up a prayer that people are safe, families are made whole and our veterans are seen- truly seen. When was the last time you thought about the war? Saw a news story about Afghanistan?
Less than 1% of the population has served in our all volunteer military. Less than half that number have been forward deployed to a combat zone. That number is too small to raise the same level of outrage that we did about Justin Beiber standing on the Indian Head in Chicago- or Kim & Kanye naming their kid something predictably stupid. I think that veterans struggle because they come home to invisibility. It is just my opinion- Start the conversation, LISTEN to their story. Don’t try to fix- try to see.

 

Those times when you just hit pause

As I shared yesterday, I am involved in a program that writes letters of support to the families of fallen service members.  I have only been doing so for three weeks and have so far written 11 letters.

That in itself is enough to make me pause and still my heart for a moment, but today, as I sat to write my letter, I found myself truly feeling heartache. See, today, my letter was to the parents of Brandon Meyers of Plainfield, Il.

Brandon was a Marine- like many his age, he joined the Corps. right out of high school. He served two tours in Iraq and returned home to his family in November  of 2010. He loved cars and motorcycles. He loved his sister and his parents. He planned to attend community college to become automotive technician.

He was my daughter’s age.

He was plagued by PTSD and struggled to come to terms with the memories he could not forget. He didn’t sleep. He left a note for his family saying they would be better of without him. That is what took my breath away- how extreme is someone’s pain that they would think their family would be better dealing with their suicide than their behavior. Now, don’t misunderstand me, I don’t say that in judgement but in sadness.  I realize there is no way to understand what was going on in this young man’s head- and I hold no judgement about what he did. My heart just breaks that he was in such emotional pain.  That he made this choice.  That his world was so black he could no longer see the sun. It is the absence of hope that kills the soul. I pray for his family and hope for them.

I have a dear, dear friend who lost her son. We don’t talk about it. She is a strong woman and has spent her live committed to helping people in need. I know this- there is no one else in my life who is as attuned to my moods,

so willing to reach out and say Hi- (even if that is all she can do-) so I feel seen.

so willing to stand and look you dead in the eye at your darkest moment and say “Hey. I’m here.”

It is this same friend who once told me she made a commitment to be open to the everyday miracles in her life- and she is.

So often, she is blessed with joyful memories of her son in the actions of her grandchildren and others.  Her life is filled with joyful laughter and  her days with purpose.  And that is truly a blessing.

I tell myself it is out of the losses in her life that she has learned to live. I envy her spirit in a good way and strive to follow her example.

That is my hope for the Meyer’s family. That they are able to find joy and laughter in the memories of their son to balance the ache that will forever live in their hearts.  I ask that you send up a prayer for the Meyers family. And for all of the veterans striving to find their way back from the memories that haunt them.  I wish you peace and  hope that you can again find your place in the world. That is my prayer for you- that you cling to hope to lift you from the darkness. That hope reminds you of the joy you bring to those around you and gives you strength to shoulder on. I pray for you. It is my hope, that you can unpack the torment you carry in your ruck and leave it behind. I pray for hope.

 

Skies are crying to welcome the day

My heart is heavy today, so it is only fitting that I wake to gray skies and rain. It helps for me to think the sky is crying as I write the families of fallen soldiers cards of sympathies.

I wasn’t thinking when I opted into the program of writing Gold Star parents- what a bizarre name it sounds almost like they won a prize.  I understand that the name is from the Gold Star banners award to the families of fallen military members. I proudly hung a blue star banner when my daughter was deployed.  And was grateful the day I took it down when she was home safe.

So when the writing campaign came across my desk I thought sure- I facilitate a writers group for veterans this would be something we could weave in to the program. Little did I realize the frequency of announcements dropping into my email box. When I received the first one, I was excited in a weird way not in a good way but more like an “Oh- this does really work.” kind of way, but then I grew concerned about what to write- so I waited for jus the right moment when I would be able to say something poignant and meaningful- and the days passed and more notifications filled my email box.

It was overwhelming to see the emails- it seemed like a new one each day- when I finally sat down to write them, I realized it was because several of them died together on the same day in the same horrific, senseless rocket attack in Bagram, Afghanistan. They were on the FOB doing their jobs. And then they were gone.

As I read each of the obituaries of these young people I felt as if I was an intruder. Like I am getting a glimpse into the lives of these families at their weakest moment. What can I possibly write to make them feel better?

Nothing- that is what I came away with. There are no words that will ease their grief, make the day any less horrible. I stayed away from platitudes of heros and defending my freedom.  As a mom, that would not ease my hurt, offer me comfort. I just put pen to paper and let the universe take over- I am deeply sorry you lost your child. I will hold you in my prayers. I thank you for raising a child who was willing to serve and am beholden to your family for their sacrifice. I hope you can fill your heart with memories of joy to lessen the grief that fills you now.

All I can do is hope it was enough.