So it was Mother’s day and the newspaper in my town did a story about the Gold Star Mothers, the women who have lost children to war. I read the article, as far as I could, until the tears blurred my vision and rage pierced my heart. I agree that these women have experienced an unimaginable loss, but their loss is not a noble sacrifice, or the ultimate patriotic deed. That’s part of the myth they tell us to make the loss seem bearable.
Women lose children everyday, to disease, addiction, depression, accidents. It is no more gallant a loss when a flag drapes the coffin. In fact it is the ultimate failure. We fail our children when war is the solution to any problem. We fail as a society and as humankind. When we choose war, we squander the dedication, commitment and devotion of our children who serve in the Armed Forces. We call them peacekeepers and then send them to fight. What a dissonant concept. And when we lose sight of a war because our own lives are complicated by more immediate concerns like the price of gas or food, we fail them again.
There is an indelible image in my mind. It’s 2005 and while staying at a hotel in the Midwest, I wander into a parking lot filled with buses of new soldiers. They are dressed in desert fatigues and filing into the hotel. Their faces are fresh, so young and so eager. My car is blocked, so I wait patiently while they stand in lines talking about the hot breakfast and the cozy bed that awaits them. We talk… “Where are you from?”
“Alabama, Vermont, Texas, Washington”, “Where are you going?”
I realize then that my role is to stand witness to these beautiful children, to be there on behalf of their mothers who will follow every moment of this journey in their mind’s eye. I affirm their beauty, their innocence and potential, and the love they freely express for those left behind. I plead with all that is holy to wrap protective arms around these men and women. We chat, and I learn about families, children and plans for “when they return.”
Then I see a small ragged Elmo doll, stuffed into the pants pocket of a big strapping young man. Elmo’s head peaks out.
“I see you have a friend in your pocket?”
“Yep” he says, “Elmo has been with me my whole life. I thought he should come to Iraq too.”
I am at a loss… “I hope he keeps you safe,” I say.
“That’s what I’m counting on.”
Isn’t it time we all stand witness and choose to keep our children safe?