“We shall find peace. We shall hear angels. We shall see the sky sparkling with diamonds.” ~ Anton Chekhov

Marine White Gloves, Sand from Iwo Jima and a Red Rose Atop the Casket of Lt. James Cathy, image by Todd Heisler, Pulitzer Prize-winning Photographer 

“Give me love, give me peace on earth, give me light, give me life, keep me free from birth, give me hope, help me cope, with this heavy load, trying to, touch and reach you with, heart and soul” ~ George Harrison

Well, it’s been over a week since I last blogged, except for my brief Christmas message. In that time so much has happened. I’ll get to the saga of our most recent trip to Ohio in a different post, but today, I wanted to share something with you that happened this morning: 

I was on my way to the bank, and Eamonn was in the car with me. Normally, I cut through a small neighborhood to get to the bank; it’s an old neighborhood, full of smaller houses. I was driving slower as I do on neighborhood streets when I noticed a marine in full dress uniform knocking on a door. Two other marines were sitting in a car parked in front of the house. 

When I saw that young marine, my heart completely sank. I knew what was about to happen. I have seen this scene in countless movies, but never in person. I explained to Eamonn what was about to happen: The day after Christmas a family was going to be notified that someone they loved had been killed. I explained to Eamonn that notifications are always done by someone official. 

The marine on the porch paused to watch us drive past; he was young, and his face was momentarily filled with anguish, and then the façade reappeared just as quickly as it had faded. 

“The real differences around the world today are not between Jews and Arabs; Protestants and Catholics; Muslims, Croats, and Serbs.  The real differences are between those who embrace peace and those who would destroy it; between those who look to the future and those who cling to the past; between those who open their arms and those who are determined to clench their fists.” ~ William J. Clinton

I cannot tell you that I know how the family that received that notification feels because I cannot. Yes, I have known death, have watched it come, have held it, but I have never faced the death of a loved one in the military, of someone who has been killed in conflict by whatever means. Someone who was close to me has faced the horror of the knock on the door, and the pain that I felt for her was miniscule in comparison to what she felt, still feels to this day. 

But after this morning’s moment of great sadness I felt great anger, incredible indignation at what had brought this man to this family’s door. I am not naive enough to believe that we will ever truly have peace on earth. As long as human beings inhabit this planet, there will be war, conflict, evil. There is something within our species that is never content, something that always wants more—whether it be more land, more oil, more power. No matter how much millions of us clamor for it, rally for it, cry for it, there will never be lasting peace. Humanity is not capable of it. 

Don’t misunderstand. I am not saying that human beings are inherently evil or bad or malicious. I choose to believe the opposite. But I know that to erase intolerance of other religions, other races, other tribes, other beliefs, to do this is an impossibility because people with intolerance and hatred in their hearts will always exist. People with evil in their souls will always stake claims over the lives of others. This is life. This is the life that we have created over thousands of years, the life that we have accepted, will continue to accept. 

Kindness and generosity should rule, but they do not. Empathy and tolerance should be the way of the world, but it is not. And so, in spite of my great desire—a desire that is shared all over the world—not to send sons and daughters, mother and fathers, brothers and sisters to war, we will continue to do so, and families will continue to receive heart-wrenching news from someone whose unenviable duty it is to carry this message to their doorsteps. 

“The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes within the souls of people when they realize their relationship, their oneness with the universe and all its powers, and when they realize that at the center of the universe dwells the Great Spirit, and that this center is really everywhere, it is within each of us.” ~ Black Elk

Pulitzer Prize-winning Image of CACO Major Steve Beck, 2005, by Todd Heisler of Rocky Mountain News

I must pause here to acknowledge the marine CACO (Casualty Assistance Call Officer). Notifying a military family of the death of a family member must take immeasurable strength and courage of a different kind. I know that these men and women undergo rigorous training for their jobs, which includes notification, family support and assistance, as well as escort. Being a CACO becomes the primary duty of the service man or woman, and it must be a job fraught with emotional turmoil. 

I don’t think that the memory of the marine’s face will ever completely fade from my memory. If I am to retain my humanity, I pray that it does not 

However, if I am to be completely honest, I must admit that something deep within me was incredibly thankful that Eamonn was with me; perhaps he, too, will remember that moment and understand it for what all that it was: the fragility of life, the real consequences of war, the need for compassion, the ineffable sadness of loss. 

Witness creates impression in a way that all of the words spoken cannot. A hard lesson for the holidays. 

“Namaste. I honour the place in you where the entire universe resides . . . a place of light, of love, of truth, of peace, of wisdom. I honour the place in you where when you are in that place and I am in that place there is only one of us.” ~ Mohandas K. Ghandi

 More later. Peace. 

“Happy Xmas (War is Over),” by John Lennon with incredible images. 

  

 

  

For more information about CACOs and their relationships with military families, see the excellent book Final Salute: A Story of Unfinished Lives, by Jim Sheeler. Click here for The New York Times book review.

“There is no glory in battle worth the blood it costs” ~ Dwight D. Eisenhower

Pentagon War Dead

Fallen Troops on Transport Plane Arriving at Dover Delaware

“War is wretched beyond description, and only a fool or a fraud could sentimentalize its cruel reality.” ~ John McCain

“In war, there are no unwounded soldiers.” ~ Jose Narosky

(Yes, I—screaming liberal that I am—have begun my post with a quote by John McCain. I know that this choice probably surprises those of you who have read me on a regular basis and know how much I opposed McCain’s bid for president. That being said, I will in no way dishonor the service that Senator McCain gave to this country, nor diminish the sacrifices that he and his family made. And as I was searching for the perfect quote to begin my post, I happened upon this one by McCain. I believe that his quote, spoken as someone who has seen war firsthand, sums up exactly what I am trying to say.)

Yesterday was Good Friday. I did not post. I was absorbed in my own little world, sitting outside, enjoying the sunshine and reading a book. Days like that are meant to be enjoyed and appreciated. And that is what I did.

But then, I went to bed early as I was not feeling well. How many times have I written that in this blog, “not feeling well”? I’ve lost count.

Today when I finally got myself moving, I was trying to think about what I wanted to post. What’s on my mind? What am I thinking about? What might catch a reader’s interest? So I sat down and began my usual routine by reading my comments first, always something from Maureen on White Orchid, and an interesting comment by my friend Sarah. Then I went to My Comments section in my dashboard.

This section on Word Press lets you keep track of threads of which you have become a part. So I was thinking about how aggravating it is to continue to see comments on a thread in which I have absolutely no interest, when I saw a thread from WillPen’s World (http://willpen.wordpress.com/), one of my favorite blogs.

“I finally saw that the story was not about the media at all. It was about honoring the heroes who sacrifice their lives to serve us all. ” ~ Courtney Kube

The comment made in the thread, which was regarding a previous post on WillPen’s site, was posted by regular visitor, Starshine, who always shares interesting tidbits and feeds to good posts. But this one brought me up short. It was a link to two different Daily KOS posts, both about U.S. casualties in the wars.

The first post, by greenies, was entitled IGTNT: With A Family’s Permission We Bear Witness. IGTNT, which stands for “I Got The News Today,” marked a bittersweet anniversary with this post: five years of posts in memory and gratitude to our fallen service members and their families.(http://www.dailykos.com/story/2009/4/9/718378/-IGTNT:-With-a-Familys-Permission,-We-Bear-Witness).

The second post, entitled No One Could Have Asked For A Better Brother, was by noweasels (see link below), and although quite long, it was heart wrenching. Nevertheless, I would strongly recommend both posts to anyone who cares about our troops. The post brought to mind that the first anniversary passed in February of the death of one of my friend’s fiances. He was a U.S. Navy Seal, and he had already been in Iraq and Afghanistan far too many times. But it was what he did, what he loved to do, and he died serving his country in the company of his brothers, his Seal unit.
 

 

“In war, truth is the first casualty.” ~ Aeschylus

military-flag-draped-caskets1In February of this year, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced the lift of the 18-year ban by the Pentagon on media coverage of the flag-draped coffins of war victims arriving at Dover Air Force Base. The ban was imposed by Bush senior during the first Iraq war. Many people argued that the ban was the administration’s attempt to hide the very human cost of war so that the country would stand behind the president’s actions.

Others, Republicans and Democrats, have argued vociferously that the ban should be lifted: “We should honor, not hide, flag-draped coffins,” said Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J. “They are a symbol of the respect, honor and dignity that our fallen heroes deserve.”

Sunday, April 5 marked the first time that the media was allowed to witness the ritual of returning the remains of fallen U.S. service members.

While I have long been vocal about how this imposed cloak was a disservice to our fallen warriors, there are others who are still opposed to lifting the ban, citing the possible misuse of the images for anti-war propaganda. Apparently, those families who do not want any pictures to be taken or any videos shot will have the final say in their participation. I can respect that need for privacy and hope that the media does as well.
 
Courtney Kube, Pentagon Producer for NBC News, movingly comments that “While the family witnesses the event just a few yards away from the media, the Dover rules strictly prohibit the media from taking any photos of them. Even though we all do our best to avert our eyes and give them their privacy, their presence is palpable and heartbreaking.”  (http://fieldnotes.msnbc.msn.com/archive/2009/04/08/1885755.aspx).

“If we let people see that kind of thing, there would never again be any war.”  ~ Pentagon official explaining why the U.S. military censored graphic footage from the Gulf War

But we must remember, the images of war help to educate the public. During the Viet Nam war, the images sent back home from war photographers and the footage beamed into American living rooms became the initiation of the American public to the stark realities of war. No heroic songs. No heroic slogans. Only young men dying in a brutal war that divided the nation in every conceivable way: class, race, and politics to name but the obvious.

That is why I was completely dismayed by the continued non-coverage during this Iraqi war and the war in Afghanistan. My belief is that if the people in our society and societies of other countries participating in these wars—regardless of political party affiliations— see the ultimate sacrifices made, then the war will cease to be an abstract idea, something thousands of miles away in a distant land that doesn’t really affect our day-to-day lives.

“In peace, sons bury their fathers; in war, fathers bury their sons.” ~ Herodotus

But war isn’t distant. It isn’t abstract. War is ugly, and it is brutal. And it should affect our day-to-day lives. As Americans, we should always be mindful of the prices paid to keep our country free, that these prices affect families in our own hometowns and neighborhoods every day of every week of every year that we are involved in battle.

The following statistics are taken from a Daily KOS post by noweasels:

To date, 4266 members of the United States military have lost their lives in Iraq. The death toll thus far in 2009 is already 45. More than 31,000 members of the military have been wounded, many grievously. The Department of Defense Press Releases, from which the information at the start of each entry in this diary was drawn, can be seen here. The death toll among Iraqis is unknown, but is at least 200,000 and quite probably many times that number.

To date, 676 members of the United States military have lost their lives in Afghanistan. The death toll thus far for 2009 is 46. 452 members of the military from other countries have also lost their lives. (http://www.dailykos.com/story/2009/4/10/718820/-IGTNT:-No-one-could-have-asked-for-a-better-brother).

“I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.” ~ Dwight D. Eisenhower

army-bugler1
Army Bugler at Military Cemetery

My father’s own casket was draped with the U.S flag at his funeral. He had a 21-gun salute. A veteran of World War II and Korea, and a non-military veteran of Viet Nam, he fought for a country that was not his original homeland. He earned a Bronze Star with valor. He earned the right to that flag-draped casket and that salute. And as much as it tore my heart out, he earned the right to have “Taps” played when he was laid to rest.

Fading light
Dims the sight
And a star
Gems the sky
Gleaming bright
From afar
Drawing nigh
Falls the night.
 
 

Major General Daniel Butterfield

“Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government.” ~ Hugo Black, Supreme Court Justice

The wars in which our country has been immersed since Bush 2’s declaration of victory continue today. Tomorrow, someone may have a knock on the door that they never could have foreseen and have prayed intently against ever hearing.

For too long, the citizens of this country have not been allowed to grieve collectively about our fallen military men and women. Without imposing upon the rights of their families, I believe that the lift of this ban could be healthy for our country. As one person commented on Kube’s story:

When you cry for and mourn a fallen soldier (especially one that you didn’t know), I believe that you are really mourning all of the soldiers who have given their lives for our freedom. I think that witnessing and really feeling these moments allows us to realize just how much the sacrifices these men and women have made actually mean to us.

and another:

I caught myself wanting to stand during the ceremony in my den.  This is something that this country has been missing since the war in Iraq started—honoring those who have given their lives.  We need never forget the sacrifices of the fallen heroes and their families.

“If we don’t bear witness as citizens, as people, as individuals, the right that we have had to life is sacrificed. There is a silence, instead of a speaking presence.” ~ Jane Rule

boots-and-rifles-memorial
Soldier's Cross: Boots, Rifles, Helmets, and Dogtags of the Fallen

We must continue to bear witness, as painful as that may be. We must continue to hold in our hearts and our thoughts our sons and daughters, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, friends and school mates. It is the very least that we can do.

So the next time I complain about not feeling well, about having a headache, or how my back is in so much pain, I need to remind myself that I am here in my house, writing what I want to write, when I want to write it because of the men and women who haven’t had a real shower in weeks, who sleep without pillows and soft mattresses, who wear the same dirty clothes day after day, who carry with them the smallest of talismans to remind them of home.

I must admit that they are doing what I could not. Many are over in that desert for the third or fourth time. Living in a community filled with military families, I am aware that people all around me are waiting for their loved ones’ safe return, and hoping against hope not to get  the letter and the knock on the door.

And so I will leave you with this quote by Franklin Delano Roosevelt and a video to remind you that your bad day will never be as bad as those who have been sent to war:

I have seen war. I have seen war on land and sea. I have seen blood running from the wounded. I have seen the dead in the mud. I have seen cities destroyed. I have seen children starving. I have seen the agony of mothers and wives. I hate war.

 

 

If the content on this post has offended anyone in any way, I apologize.

More later. Peace be with you and yours.

Following Your Muse Is Sometimes Like Following a Bumper Sticker

calliope-by-troy-pillow2

“Calliope” by Troy Pillow

Conversations With My Brain

save-darfur-logo I used to work with a woman in the English department at ODU who ascribed to the adage, “Follow Your Muse.” I always thought that it was a terribly wise saying, but never really thought about how a person could actually go about doing so in real terms until years later. I mean, it’s a nice sentiment, something lovely that you might see on a bumper sticker, like “Whirled Peas,” or “Impeach W,” or “Save Darfur Now,” or “Not On My Watch.” All of these aphorisms are accepted as meaningful, and who would actually argue against any of them?

You sit behind a car in traffic that is bearing a sticker calling for World Peace, and are you actually going to think, ‘no, I’m not for world peace. Screw it. Let’s all go to war’? Of course not. But do you actually take action?

In sociology classes, wearing a button, or putting a bumper sticker on your car is classified as the first level of social/political participation. In other words, you have participated, but on the most passive level. You have made a statement that shows the rest of society that you believe in something, but unless you move on to the next level, say contacting your representative in Congress, you remain at that actively passive level. That is not to say that your level of participation is not good, because usually to get the bumper sticker or button, you have contributed some money to the cause in which you believe, and those funds will go in support of that cause.

But how about how I end my blog entries, with the word peace?  What exactly is my point? What am I trying to prove? That I’m a throwback to the days when everyone used the word peace as a word of departure instead of goodbye? No, that’s not it. Perhaps I thought that “Live long and prosper” would be too pretentious even though I think that it happens to be a wonderful statement? No, that’s not it either. I just happen to be so tired of conflict, so tired of the conflict that this country is mired in that I thought that using the word ‘peace’ as my closing could be my small statement towards following my muse and being true to myself.

For me, the word peace is not a throw away word. It is filled with significance, and I do not close with it lightly. It is my benediction, my way of saying to you, my reader, ‘thank you for taking this journey with me, and I wish you well until the next time that you visit.’ Like the Quaker who says “Peace be with you” upon departing, it is my fond farewell that you remain safe, inviolate when you go out and about in the world.

But getting back to following my muse . . . My muse is Calliope, the muse of poetic inspiration and oratory, sometimes called the muse of epic poetry and eloquence. I used to think that my muse was Erato, but she is actually more closely associated with erotic poetry and mimicry, as well as song and dance. I just don’t see myself as being inspired by dance. I mean, I love the ballet, but I love rhetoric more. Of course, all creative people are supposed to be a blend of the muses; supposedly, I am a mixture of predominantly Calliope, with some Erato, Terpsichore, and Polyhymnia mixed in. All righty then.

But to follow your muse, truly follow your muse, you must first know your muse, and as I said, it took me a while to determine who mine is, and I have yet to begin to know her truly. But to decide to take the journey to follow your muse takes some real dedication on your part. I mean, following my muse means that I will actually dedicate myself to finding my inner creative being, my inner source of poetry, eloquence, inspiration, and oratory.

Consider the ramifications of this for a moment. Following your muse isn’t something that you actually take on lightly. You must be willing to look inside yourself and find those pieces of you that actually are being driven by your muse. Do you realize how crazy this sounds? Looking around inside yourself, opening those spaces inside your brain, your memory, those hidden places, saying hello through the cobwebs . . .

Don’t mind me. I’m just looking for some inspiration here?

Some what?

Some inspiration. You know, my muse sent me.

Your what did what?

My muse, Calliope. She said that I had some creativity stored in here somewhere, some eloquence or something like that. Said I might be able to use it.

Have you lost your mind? This section has been closed off for a good decade or so. What in the hell are you bothering us for?

Wasn’t my idea, really. Some bumper sticker thing, or maybe repressed memory, something about . . . give me a sec . . . oh yeah, “follow my muse.”

You’re kidding right? You’re dusting us off for a bumper sticker?

No. It’s not a bumper sticker. I told you. It’s a repressed memory, and quit giving me such a hard time. It took me a while to remember this. Trust me. This is going to be a good thing. Following my muse is going to let me write even better, be more creative.

What in the bloody hell are you going on about? In all of these years, you’ve written what, maybe five good pieces, and how many have you sent out for review? And you can’t even be honest about that. Can you?

Mind your own business. This isn’t about how many pieces I’ve sent out. This is about what I’m going to do now. Calliope is calling. I’m going to write like the wind. Now open your doors, and let me through.

Bloody hell. Some twit named Calliope rings you up, and now we have to come out of a perfectly good hibernation. For what? Waste of time, if you ask me. Bet you anything she’s off her meds again. Dee-loosions of grandeur, that’s what this is all about.

I heard that.

Okay, so maybe it will take a while for the whole muse path thing to really work for me. But I think that perhaps I am closer to understanding what my colleague actually meant by her statement on a real level, not just on a superfluous level. Following your muse is a way of life, not just dabbling here and there. I’ll have to give it more time for it to become second nature.

In the meantime, the next time you see a bumper sticker that makes you think, consider giving some money to the cause. That takes you up one level from a passive activist to a level one activist, and that can give you a nice warm feeling, even it’s only a $5 donation. I know, even $5 is a lot in this economy, but in Darfur, $5 can be the difference between life and death.

For more information about this particular ongoing world crisis, please visit this site: http://www.savedarfur.org/content. And please believe, a crisis such as the one in

save-darfur-pix

Darfur is not regional. What is happening to these people is a human crisis of epic, global proportions. No one remains untouched.

More later. Peace.

 

The American Dream (part 2)–according to Sarah Palin

I have to get this off my chest: Aside from the fact that I’m not a conservative Republican, I don’t have an issue with her daughter’s pregnancy. That’s none of my business, and as someone who believe in pro-choice, her daughter is old enough to decide what she wants to do. I also can truly appreciate Palin’s status as the mother of a special needs child, and I don’t see how that should be brought up as an issue as to whether or not her children should in any way affect her ability to be a candidate. I agree with Obama: family should be off-limits in this campaign.

But obviously, that’s not how Palin views it. She put her family on display tonight, and made the whole family values issue a big, fat cog in the Republican campaign machine by introducing herself as “just a simple hockey mom.” But even that isn’t my issue here. This is my issue: Palin fired the cook at the governor’s mansion, as in when she moved into the governor’s mansion, she fired the cook. That’s my issue. Now it might sound as if I’m nitpicking when there are a whole bunch of really big issues to discuss, but bear with me. Firing the cook is just one example of how Palin, a non-feminist (because conservatives do not consider themselves to be feminists (because they do not know the true meaning of the word)), operates, making it appear that any other woman who does not operate in a comparable method, is a whiner, or just plain loser. She is the wife/mother who can do it all without any help, and she seems to see asking for help as a weakness. So how much sympathy is she going to have for the rest of us? I think this is a point worth pondering as the Vice President sits over Congress, which is where we will be fighting over key legislature on family rights bills in the coming term.

More examples of super mom on steroids (just a figure of speech, not an accusation): Palin went back to work three days after the birth of baby Trig and nurses Trig during meetings. How nice. She gave a keynote speech when she was eight months pregnant; her water broke, and she flew home; most airlines won’t even let you get on a plane when you are eight months pregnant, let alone if your water has broken, but not super mom. How many of the working mothers out there, myself included, had the opportunity to nurse their newborns or infants during staff meetings? And I’m sorry to mention this delicate matter, especially since she’s now being described as “full of fire,” but, which will come first if she’s nursing her baby during a session of Congress and, god forbid, has to suddenly fill in for the president, especially since she doesn’t believe in nannies.

I know, I’m being cynical again. But talk about being a wee bit cynical. Palin is no pussycat. Repeatedly, she whomped on Obama as being just a “community organizer” with no real experience in her version of a political acceptance speech. I’m just wondering what the reaction would have been if a male candidate had spent the first 10 minutes of his speech pontificating on his stellar experience as a dad and not a politician. And, of course, Palin impaled the media, but I find it curiously ironic that the McCain organizers asked for everyone to back off the Palin family, but she was so willing to put her family, especially 17-year-old Bristol and her boyfriend front and center at the convention for all of America to see. “Do as I say but not as I do”?

But as usual, I digress . . . She fired the cook, has no help with the kids other than the older kids, gets the kids to hockey, PTA, ballet, church, etc., etc., etc. In other words. She can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and never, every forget “her guy” is her man. May I gag now? I have dust bunnies on my cobwebs. We’ve already discussed my penchant for clutter and my continually growing personal library. I love my children more than life, but I have occasionally used my family as babysitters, and when I was working full-time, all of them at one time or another stayed with one or the other of their grandmothers during the day. It was the main reason I moved back to the area: so that my children could know their grandparents, and Filipinos believe in extended family participating in the care of the babies.

My family life is definitely not perfect. My daughter did not get pregnant at 17, but she was not an angel.  I think that few of us could withstand microscopic scrutiny of our families. That is not the point. What I wanted to hear was what was never said: her political ideaology. What does she believe? Not just that she believes that John McCain is right for the job, not that she believes that he is an honorable man, not that she doesn’t believe that Obama is qualified—what does Sarah Palin believe this country needs in order to become unified, to progress, to end this war, to solve its educational woes, to end its dependence on fossil fuels, to take care of the largest deficit in history? I didn’t hear any of that. But I know the names of her children, and that she cooks in the governor’s mansion.

Too much information, not enough substance, and definitely nothing to give me hope for a better tomorrow.