11 November, 2008

Thank You

Veterans. When I was growing up they were old people--WWII veterans who marched in parades.

Now they're young--the muscular 20-year-old who is still filling out and whose right leg only goes halfway down. The 19-year-old girl whose face is still recovering from the scorching burns when her vehicle blew up. The 20-something whose surprisingly smooth but unique gait tells the story--it's one of those new BlueTooth legs. The 30-year-old staff sergeant with shining eyes who is the sweetest and most gentle man you'd ever meet and who doesn't mention all the dead people he sees (some of whom he dispatched) even when his eyes are wide open. The 35-year-old of a military bearing that says he still serves and who wears a stylish eyepatch, and the 38-year-old who looks fine but will be taking pills for the rest of his life.

And then there are the faces of the deployed--faces that range from the smoothness of the 18-year-old, to the craggy lines on the countenances of men who fought in Vietnam and now teach their secrets to the youngsters in Iraq...

And there are the ghosts. Today we honor the living, but today our living walk among the dead of terrorism and war...

Last week I stood in the path of Flight 77 at the Pentagon's 9-11 memorial chapel. It was afternoon, and the light streamed through the tinted glass in the dim room. I turned to look out and was shaken to think of where I was standing. In the edges of my mind I heard the last sounds made by what that passengers were still alive as the plane arrived, the exultation that the bastards must've felt as they'd seen they were succeeding. And looking across the newly-installed outdoor memorial, my undisciplined mind instantaneously filled in the blanks of the plane skidding and careening on its deadly path.

I closed my eyes to stop the phantom images that appeared in front of my eyes in broad daylight. And in another rush was reminded that this was why we were at war. Why seven years later our soldiers continue to die, why we'd just had such a contentious election, why the soldiers I'd met at Walter Reed the day before could no longer use their dominant hands, had seizures when they tried to sleep, or looked so haunted in the middle of a joyous dinner.

I wanted to punch something, to kick something, but there was not such outlet in that sacred place. So I did what girls do when they get mad: I cried.


And I loved. I loved those who have served even more than I did before. I was humbled beyond words, reminded of how much we need them, how much they have done and sacrificed for us, how much we owe them. And how grateful and proud (though shaken) I was to safely stand on a piece of ground that was a memorial to such darkness and a tribute to such light.

We have been safe for seven years. Amazing.

Thank you, dear veterans. For all of it.