03 February, 2006

The 2005 SOTU

I was looking through my computer today and found the following in an old folder. It’s the post-script to a letter I had written to an Army NCO forward-deployed in the Ramadi, Iraq area in harsh conditions. It was just after the first Iraqi elections last January, and a day after the President’s 2005 State of the Union Speech. I’m sharing it here because it’s a reminder of an amazing moment I hadn’t thought of for a long time.

I had this letter all “wrapped up” and was going to print it off, then things got crazy and now it’s five days later. Now I just want to tell you about something that happened at the President’s State of the Union yesterday. I want to tell you about it because it made just about the whole country cry, and relates to what our U.S. Soldiers are doing in Iraq.

As is traditional, certain people were seated with Mrs. Bush in the gallery and the President mentioned them in his speech. However, what happened in their interactions was obviously completely unplanned (any reasonable person who would think otherwise simply had to see the President’s reaction to it to know the truth). Sitting next to Mrs. Bush was an Iraqi woman whose father had been killed by Saddam’s security forces 11 years ago. She still had ink on her finger from the recent elections (The President mentioned her when he spoke of the Iraqi elections). Seated directly behind the two of them were the parents of a Marine from a small Texas town who had died in the assault on Fallujah last November. His mother had written to the President about him, “When Byron was home the last time, I said that I wanted to protect him like I had since he was born. He just hugged me and said, 'You've done your job, Mom. Now it is my turn to protect you.” The president mentioned her son’s sacrifice and quoted her letter, and with a catch in his voice, said, “With grateful hearts, we honor freedom's defenders and our military families, represented by his parents…” They then stood to roaring applause, of course.

The camera had been on the mother when the President first mentioned her son and by the time she stood to acknowledge the applause she was clearly fighting back tears as she literally clung to her husband’s arm for support. Her grief was painfully obvious. The Iraqi woman in front of her turned around to clap with everyone else. Then, seeing the mother’s grief, she first reached for her hand to comfort her and then embraced her over the back of the row of chairs separating them. You could see the President watching them, and though he couldn’t be heard, his lips obviously said, “Oh, my…” as he saw what was happening. He just stared as they continued to embrace, and the applause went on and on. We were all transfixed as worlds collided--An Iraqi woman whose father had been murdered by Saddam and had just voted for the first time in her life was embracing a mother who had lost so much when her son had given his life making her vote possible. But there was more to come. As the women finally broke the embrace, the Marine’s dogtags (whom the mother had been holding in one hand or possibly wearing) became entangled on the Iraqi’s sleeve. In that moment the three of them—the fallen Marine, an Iraqi he had helped free, and the grieving mother he protected—seemed literally connected in body and spirit. The women struggled to untangle things and it seemed to take forever, but couldn’t have been much more than a few seconds.

About that time I became aware of the tears on my cheeks, but I didn’t remember having actually cried. Others have said that time stood still for that moment, and I think I’d have to agree. I will never forget it. It was the most complete mixing of deep pain and astounding beauty I have ever seen. The thought of it still brings tears to my eyes and a painful stab to my heart. I don’t have the words to say what I think it meant, and I haven’t read anything by anyone else that seems to either. The few people I’ve talked to find it hard to talk about. It almost makes me wonder if maybe we’ve felt it so sacred that to comment too much on it would somehow dirty it. That one moment seemed to encapsulate the terrible pain and sacrifice war requires, as well as the reasons why it’s sometimes so horribly necessary. I’ve never felt such pain and such reverent joy at the same time.

I share this because.........Well, there’s that problem with words, again! I think you know why...

Just wanted to share it...