Monday, April 26, 2010

Three Years Ago Today

I was watching my father die. It would be his last day with us.

It was, without a doubt, the most difficult time of my life. In the weeks preceding the 27th of April, 2007, I watched him stop eating. He slept for hours a day. He soiled himself and was humiliated by the failure and betrayal of his body.

Three years ago today, I sat in his bedroom, singing to him, playing *his* guitar, while he barely smiled. Still, I could tell he was happy, even if I could not complete any song without losing my voice. But no matter how poorly I sang, every time I looked over, he was smiling.

I struggled with his earnest request to "help him" to give him enough morphine so that he could "go". I remember, heartbroken, telling him I'd look into it, even though he was asking me to kill him. I agonized for days as I researched how much a dosage he would need to be done, to do for him the last thing he asked of me. And, in the end, he saved me from that decision. The next morning, he made his own decision. He saved me from having to kill him. Thank you for that, my father.

Like I said, it was the hardest time in my life.

So, I'd like to thank some people who were there for me in ways only they could help.

Denise, my wife. You gave me immeasurable support during this time. You were there for him in so many ways, which meant you were there for me. I don't think I can thank you enough. Thank you for loving me, for loving him, and being there.

Jessica and Sarah, my daughters. You each were there for me in ways, not so much substantial but with a presence that reassured me during this difficult time. It was so important to me.

Kerry, my present wife and partner. Though you never got to meet him, and were thrown into the after-drama of his death, you accepted it with a grace and purpose that cemented my love for you.

Jack, good and trusted friend. Thank you for talking me through the myriad questions of what Dad wanted and helping me figure out if I could give him what he wanted, even though I didn't have to. I don't think I could have had that conversation with anyone else.

Marla, my good friend and confidant. You helped me through an aftermath of his death that no one should ever endure. Your patience and validation was everything I needed. Thank you.

So that is today. I have no idea what tomorrow will be like. At 8:30 in the morning tomorrow I have a conference call. I will be at work, so I figured it would be better to get this out today.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Soldier Suicides

It has been reported that more soldiers have committed suicide than have died in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. This might be a good time to post this:

Mars On Love and War v3

Copyright 4/8/2007

Revised 6/10/2009

Donn Christianson

This is a spoken piece, best presented by a single speaker. A monologue.

I come to you – Mars; God of war, warrior’s Father.

Under my watchful eye, your men, and now women, carry shields, and wield weapons dire, in foreign lands.

Not in my name but in yours.

And yet, what is it that you do?

You send loved ones off to my realm.

They leave behind the peace and beauty of your arms, the bliss of your beds – and for what?

It matters not. To warriors, it matters not why you send them. It matters not why you allow your countries to send them.

They go. They swore an oath, so they go.

I will not send them all home.

I will not send them all home whole.

They shall not return to you unchanged.

Yet, when I do, when I return them to you…

Love them. Broken though they may be; love them.

Embrace your warriors, for they need you in their next darkest hour – that of returning home.

Accept them. Love them, just as they are, just as I have returned them to you.

Hold them, if they stay silent.

Stand by them if they speak of whence the came and what they saw.

Calm each sleepless night with your loving embrace.

Soothe their nightmares.

Kiss away their loneliness.

Bathe them in your love and cleanse their souls.

Only then, only after you do this, only after you accept my warriors, your warriors -- as you have sent them and as they have been returned.

Then and only then, consider sending them back to me, Mars.

Once more.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

I am not things...

What is all this stuff I have, the possessions, the weight of things.
What is the need to have and to hold, to gather, hoard and keep.
I am not my things and they are not me.
They will be nothing when I last sleep.

This heaviness on my shoulders and the weight upon my back.
Of things bought, traded and collected along the way.
Carried through my days in boxes, trunks and bags.
What do things mean to me today?

I came into this world with nothing.
I will leave with nothing still.
I am not things and they not me.
I will not be remembered for the things I leave.

It will be my acts, my deeds.
My faults and strengths.
How I loved and failed.
How I loved and soared.

It will be memories raised though the days
of the people who knew me well.
That will make them smile and remember.
That I mattered to them in some small way.

I am not things and things not me.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Murder or War and are they different?

A friend posted this link on facebook. If the link does not work, suffice as to say that it shows military personnel responding to a perceived threat and causing collateral deaths and injuries to adults and children.  It's raw and difficult to watch, especially for those that have not been there and don't understand the dynamics of the situation.

This is sad, unfortunate and, from my point of view, not surprising.  Having been in Iraq, worked with soldiers (both good and bad), and watching the video closely, I can completely understand how and why this happened.  This doesn't make the deaths of the apparently unarmed people any less tragic but, consider this:

  • If you are in a war zone, with armed helicopters flying above, maybe it isn't a good idea to walk around with large black items slung over your shoulder.

  • If you are in a war zone, with armed helicopters  flying above, maybe it isn't a good idea to furtively crouch behind the cover of a wall with a long lens jutting around the corner.  As the soldiers said, it looked like an RPG, which have killed many soldiers in Iraq.

  • If you are in a war zone, with armed helicopters flying above, which have engaged a group of men, killing many and wounding others, maybe it's a monumentally stupid (though heroic at the same time) idea to drive into the battle zone in a vehicle to rescue them.

  • If you are in a war zone, with armed helicopters flying above, which have engaged a group of men, killing many and wounding others, why in the hell would you drive the aforementioned van into the battle zone with children in the vehicle?  Why?

    This is tragic beyond words but I'm not surprised that it happened. Soldiers are pretty determined to survive their missions and to protect their fellow soldiers during said missions. They will engage people they perceive to be a threat and they will eliminate that threat as quickly and as efficiently as they can. When engaging those you perceive to be hostile, you only have so much time to determine if that is the case.  You try to make the best decisions you can and only shoot the bad guys. You want to go home and you want your friends to come home too.

    Unfortunately, people who are acting like bad guys (carrying items that look like weapons from that distance, hiding behind walls carrying items that look like objects, pointing said objects around walls -- all the things that photographer was doing) but aren't hostiles, will be treated like bad guys.

    That is the tragedy that happened here.

    When I was in Iraq I faced multiple instances where people who were acting as threats barely escaped with their lives.  Here is one example.

    Just outside the perimeter of our base, the perimeter that was breached by people intent on stealing munitions which they used to manufacture IEDs, was a farmer's field.  There were signs all along the perimeter, in English and Arabic, warning people to stay away at least 100 yards from the perimeter.  That sign said that deadly force was authorized.

    It was near sundown. We got a call that there was a pickup truck about 30 yards from the fence.  There were two men digging behind the body of the truck, hidden from the view of the Iraqi guards in the overlooking security tower.  The guards were nervous as they had been shot at before from near this location.   I arrived to find the truck where they said it was and two men crouching down behind it.

    Now they could have been fixing a flat, tying their shoes, readying an RPG to fire at the tower or setting up a mortar/rocket launch (this had happened just a week before on the south side of camp).

    From behind the cover of the tower, I engaged them with an interpreter.  As he ordered them to stand and raise their hands, I opened the covers on the scope of my M16-A2 rifle and tried to see what they were doing.

    One man raised his hands and stepped from outside the truck.  He started arguing with the interpreter about something while I looked for the other man.  Suddenly the other man stood up and started arguing too.  Then he lunged into the cab of the truck.  My weapon went from safe to burst fire as my cross hairs followed his shape. As I trained my sights on his dark shape, as my finger lay on the trigger of the rifle, he emerged with a long object in his hands. My sights steadied on his center of mass. I started taking up the slack in the trigger.  His buddy and the interpreter were yelling at each other.

    The object was long, dark and glinted of metal in the setting sun.

    He raised it out over the roof of the truck and brandished a *shovel* at me.

    A shovel.

    A goddamn shovel.

    My finger came off the trigger and I put the rifle back on safe.

    Fortunately for him and his friend, I spent $300.00 on a scope for my rifle before went to Iraq. Fortunately for him I was the one who was dispatched there (I was the only one with a 4x scope) instead of one of my colleagues. At that distance, it would have been harder to see the details with the naked eye.  Fortunatly for him, I wasn't in a hurry to kill anyone but also wasn't going to break the promise I made to Denise, Jessica and Sarah that I'd come home.

    In that situation, he and his friend could very well have died at my hands that day.  Like the cameraman and journalist, they may have been found to be unarmed.  They may have been just digging a hole to plant some melons in an areas we told them they couuld not.  But they placed themselves in a dangerous sutiation, didn't comply with orders and acted in a manner that could easily be taken as threatening.

    So, tragic that the deaths of the journalists may be,  I understand why the soldiers in the video engaged those people.  I understand their congratulating each other on what they thought was a good shoot.  I completely get them protecting the soldiers on the ground.

    Let's not forget.  Even if you don't personally support the war, we, as a country, sent them there.

    We sent them there to deal with life and death, to deal out death if need be so they could come home alive to their families.

    We did that.

    We did.

  • Thursday, April 1, 2010

    On being a performer

    My friend, Courtnee, shared this:

    "Listen to the stage manager and get on stage when they tell you to. No one has time for the rock star act. None of the techs backstage care if you’re David Bowie or the milkman. When you act like a jerk, they are completely unimpressed with the infantile display that you might think comes with your dubious status. They were there hours before you building the stage, and they will be there hours after you leave tearing it down. They should get your salary, and you should get theirs.
    — Henry Rollins, Black Coffee Blues"