by Bella Rum
I took the iPad with me to the hospital, figuring that after H finished filling out the ubiquitous forms and was whisked away to that special someplace where all the action takes place, I would visit some blogs and maybe even write a post, but that wasn’t meant to be. The internet was monotonously slow, and my frustration threshold was equally low. Waiting is not my strong suit.
There was a young woman – forties – sitting across from us. She was talking on her phone, rummaging through her purse for a pen, looking at papers, busy, busy, busy. She finally got off her phone, stopped all her busy work, leaned forward and said to H, “Thank you for your service.”
H ordered a Vietnam hat a while ago. He was surprised when the first person approached him and thanked him for his service. He wasn’t aware that this is a practice for some people when they see a hat or anything that indicates a person’s service.
The woman asked him what branch of the service he was in, and volunteered that her son was a Marine sniper. H said a few things to her about how her son’s job was one of the hardest and required great discipline and courage.
He signed up at eighteen – against her wishes – and has completed tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. She shared some of his experiences with us: how he and his fellow Marines walked thirty miles in the desert, how they had to relieve themselves as they walked because of IEDs (improvised explosive devices) and other dangers, how their food supply was destroyed and they went without food for seven days and had to ration the water that remained, how he felt a bullet’s breeze as it passed inches from him, how, for an instant, he wished the bullet had hit him so it would all be over, how he minimized the bad things for her, telling her that one of their Humvees only had a flat tire when it rolled over an IED that exploded, how he slept with his weapon by his bed after he came home and how his girl was with a new guy when he returned.
She quickly swiped at an errant tear as she talked. Before he returned home, she saw on the news that twenty-seven in her son’s unit had perished that day. She said she hadn’t cried until then. She wept and paced and couldn’t sleep, and she wept even more when the middle-of-the-night phone call came. The voice on the other end said, “Mommy, it’s me. I’m okay.” Then she looked at me and explained how this Marine still called her Mommy. I guess she thought it needed an explanation, but it did not.
She talked about a huge welcome home party; their little town turned out for a hero’s welcome with signs and flags and fire trucks and police and other Marines. I thought about other times when returning warriors were bathed by their people, a ritual that washed away the guilt or shame or sadness they may have felt after battle.
Who doesn’t hate to wait in waiting rooms? But I thought about a different kind of waiting, the kind of waiting her Marine’s job required, the kind of waiting she had done, the kind of waiting all military families must do. The word sacrifice is bandied about all the time, and who could disagree that there is sacrifice, but where are the details? We seldom get the opportunity to hear or see the details.
These have been such clean wars, clean for us. There has been little or no sacrifice asked of us. There’s been little demand that we even pay attention. It’s background music to our lives. There’s such a disconnect between “us” and “them.” We don’t all have some skin in the game, at least not like this Marine and his mother.
Her Marine is serving in the Reserves now and attending college. He has some difficulty connecting with his peers. They’ve lived uninterrupted lives, they haven’t peed on themselves or felt the slight but unmistakable breeze of a bullet with their name on it. They can’t help it. Can that be the point of it all? They volunteer to serve on our behalf, and we live our lives… uninterrupted except by that car that’s taking its own sweet time to back out of our parking space so we can go on with our lives, uninterrupted? It seems there should be more to it.
Her name was called, and she was led to another waiting room to wait for the doctor to tell her about her loved one. I saw her briefly again when my name was called, and it was my turn to talk to the doctor. We smiled in passing, each of us glad the other had received good news. She went her way and I went mine. There would be no more waiting this day.
They also serve who only stand and wait. — John Milton
All photos found on Google Images