Monday, September 7, 2009

The War in My Heart

Our son Gabriel is 6 and a half years old. The war in Iraq has been being fought every single day of this child's life. This war has touched us personally. From the day my husband deployed to Iraq for the first and only time, to today, this war touches us. We can't escape it. We can't forget it.

Sure, sometimes- maybe even most of the time- we live life without consciously thinking of the Iraqi people, their war torn country, the ousting of Saddam, the tearing down of the statue in downtown Baghdad. But we never actually live free of its influence over us. Thoughts, memories, experience...its always an undercurrent, a tidal pull which threatens to pull us out to a sea of unbridled emotion. And yet, like anybody unwilling to submit to the pull of the sea, we change our course, we swim parallel to the safety of shore, we free ourselves from the dangerous rip current, and we walk away from the moment, only slightly traumatized. Mostly, we walk away exhausted from the fight to keep from being dragged under.

Its always there.

I know that the pull is greater for my husband. I know sometimes he feels lost at sea. I wish I could throw him a life-ring, pull him near, and in a method much like the Giver used to transfer the world's memory to Jonas, I wish I could take these memories from my husband.

Or do I?

These memories, they can't all cause pain. Some must give him strength. Some must give him a sense of who he is not only as a man, but as a child of God. Some must define him in ways that he would not wish to destroy. To take his memories from him would be to say I didn't think he was strong enough bear their burden. It may feel like an act of love, but perhaps in reality, it would be an act of betrayal, a message that I didn't trust him to bear the burden of witnessing human suffering, that he didn't deserve the blessing of having experienced the unbreakable bond of brotherhood. Perhaps it would be to say that I didn't believe he deserved to develop the love for humanity that can come from these experiences.

Tonight, I watched him gulp back tears as he recalled transporting a wounded Iraqi child. I so desperately wanted him to tell me all about the event. I wanted to know how he felt, how he remembered the events unfolding, what he knew about the child, where he took him, what kind of treatment he received. I wanted to know it all and I realized I didn't want to take the memory from him, but I wanted to share the burden of the memory. But as I witnessed the abridged version of the event unfold on my computer screen, so far removed by both time and place, I realized this was not a burden for me to share. This is his burden. I am not equipped to share this burden. I am a mother, not a warrior. I will never have the looking glass of wartime through which to view these events. And he knows that. He did not volunteer to tell me the story...and I did not ask.

I suspect that my husband feels as though his looking glass has been mud-stained, perhaps blood stained, that he can no longer clearly see through it. I suspect that he can't explain what he sees because he's not entirely sure how to explain it to one who cannot peer through. I have watched this documentary with him at least two other times over the past 5 years. Tonight was the first time my husband trusted me with the knowledge that he saw the nasty parts of war. Of course I knew it. I can put two and two together, but it made a difference to hear him speak what I already knew to be the truth.

I don't know what else he saw or didn't see. I don't know how close I may or may not have come to being widowed. I do know that there is more and that slowly, over time, I might gain more insight into the events which have unfolded to make this man the man he is today.

Lest I be misunderstood, this is no complaint about the man he has become. This is an acknowledgement that the man my husband has been molded into has come in part by way of the experience of war. This is an acknowledgement, that the wife I have become has been in part, molded by the experience of war. This is an acknowledgement, that the people we will be will forever be shadowed by the people we once were, the experiences we once had, and the bonds that we shared during wartime. We can't change it...and perhaps its wrong to wish we could.

Even still, knowing that I should not wish to change it, there will probably forever be a little war between the factions of my heart: the part that thinks it would be better had we not experienced life's difficulties, and the part that knows this is simply not true.


Kristina P. said...

Wow, this was amazing. This is on a much smaller scale than what your husband dealt with, as mine has not been in war, but my husband is an EMT and I know he sees a lot of tragedy and death.

And yet, he doesn't let me know it affects him. He'll talk about a "cool" accident, etc., but I think that there are times when he probably lets down the facade when I'm not around.

Lara said...

This was so beautifully written. I cannot imagine what it must be like to be touched by the war so personally, but I have other friends' whose husbands have fought in Iraq, and I know it is hard.

"the part that thinks it would be better had we not experienced life's difficulties, and the part that knows this is simply not true."

This, though, we can all identify with to some extent or another. I often look back on trials I have experienced and have this very same war in my heart. I know I'm a better person for them, but sometimes I think it would have been so much nicer (and better) not to have had to experience them at all.

J. P. said...

It was just good to be reminded that for the most part, we DID do so good and we DID "keep our honor clean..."
I remember parts, but seeing that little boy really hit home, sadly, I guess I forgot him.

J. P. said...

as Orwell said... "People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf."

Heatherlyn said...

You are right, you know. That war between not wanting the horrible parts of life and knowing that it is part of the necessary refining process ... and wondering how those who never experience such things can still grow in the same way ... it's a very real part of life.

Vanessa said...

Thank you.