Sunday, November 14, 2010

Veteran's Day

Wow, where did that come from? We have all felt it at one time or another; A sudden surge of emotions that seemingly comes from no where and slaps us right in the kisser, almost bringing us to our knees with it’s intensity. I had such a moment last week which left me fighting back tears, and pride and an ocean’s deep wave of sorrow washing over me.  I was left sodden and shaking on the side of the road.

It was November 11th, Veteran’s Day. My husband and I met with our daughters and their children for a fun and hectic dinner at a local pizza joint  in our home town. The kids were, as usual, utterly hilarious. Six little charmers moving and talking non stop. We had a five month old, 2 almost two year olds, a four, a five and a seven year old keeping us entertained mightily. An amoebe like swarming mass of sticky fingers and snotty noses, gap toothed grins and giggles. For most people this is probably daunting at best or terrifying at worst. For me it is God’s gift after a hard life, a reaffirmation that there is always hope and joy and second, third, one hundred chances to get it all right.

By the time we paid our bill and managed to weave our way over to the parade route (there was a wall, fountains, fences, and steps all between us and the place we needed to be. Anyone with kids knows with that many entertaining obstacles there is no straight line) the curb was pretty well full of people anxiously awaiting the parade. We squeezed them into a break between two short hedges just in time for the first group, veterans on motorcycles to come roaring past. While my granddaughter Caitlin shouted WOW WOW OWOWWOWOW along with their gunning engines and the others looked on in frightened, excited awe my fist sign of impending emotional meltdown was felt.

I love motorcycles. I can’t ride them, due to the whole going blind thing, but my first husband, my kid’s father, loved them to distraction. He always had at least one. I had a frame for a Ninja sitting in my living room for two years, looking like some sort of weird modern art while he worked to put it back together. Our towels were piled in the top of my clothes closet because the linen closet was a parts repository. He passed away in 1994 unexpectedly. The sight, the sound, the joy my granddaughter took in their sound and smell all served to pull the rug under my psyche just a hair. A sharp little tug at my heart strings.

I        I grew up in the sixties and seventies, daughter of a military man, in and around families of military background. In those turbulent, toxic times images of such brutality, such kindness, such hate and such compassion as to be almost indescribable were woven into my brain and our national fabric. The raggedy group of Vietnam vets that ambled by next, their proud, sad faces set glumly, sudden bright, sharp smiles at all of the kids cheering them on and clapping pudgy little hands took my breath away. I felt an almost audible tear in my emotional stability. I stepped back from my family a bit, trying not to ruin the moment for them, trying to get a grip on myself.

In stepping back, I saw my oldest grandson rest his hand, protectively and lovingly on his cousin’s two year old head. At that moment, that very instant a group of ROTC students marched by. Young, unbelievably young children marching, white wooden guns over shoulders thrown back with purpose and pride in tight formation called cadence. At that moment I lost it. I could no more have prevented the flood of tears than walked on water.

I was proud of these men and women, these young children with wooden guns. More than just a sense of patriotism I knew from personal experience how they would gladly march into battle full of determination and valor. How, even after being shot at, blown up, taunted and terrified they would go back and back again to do the most thankless of jobs. At the same time, I have seen the devastation caused by one tiny piece of metal tunneling through human flesh and bone. I knew the ramifications of their choice not just for themselves but for their mothers and fathers, their sisters and brothers. I wept for their greatness, I wept for my son, I wept for all I have loved and lost and I wept for the promise these men and women offer. I wept for us all.