It was an Abrahamic moment that December day, one year ago, at the Armed Forces Recruitment Center. The cold and grey was about right as I said goodbye. He told me just weeks before, “I’m going dad. I didn’t know what you’d say.” What was I to say? The Marine recruiter welcomed him aboard with relief as the bus rolled quietly away. “Whose altar is this?” I thought to myself, pulling out of the parking lot. “Where is the promised ram in the bush?” What am I being asked to do? I’ve spent most of my life speaking, standing, and acting against war and its designs. A conscientious objector, I made the decision long ago that violence must not be allowed to have its way in this world. As an educator, I am called to upbuild the human community. But now, in the person of my only son, the choices are suddenly blurred.
I had always wondered how this one was going to leave the nest. At twenty-one, with little purpose or meaning in a string of local factory jobs, he reached for the sky on his own terms for the very first time. I guess I had always thought of him in other ways. An engineer? His grandfather was one. A social science major? Growing up he watched endless hours of History and Discovery Channel TV. A youth recreation director? He spent most of his summer months at the paint ball field, refereeing for group events. Maybe. A Marine? That never entered the picture – at least not mine. But ours is a family of independent souls. This was his choice. This is his life. What can I say?
Early this morning we parted again, this time at the airport, I to another university where lofty ideas awaited claims and nuance, and he to the ancient land of Abraham, between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, where the now warring peoples of Iraq are fed. “You and I are made for peace,” I thought as we hugged without words for the last time. I believe in the power of conviction. I believe in answering a call. I believe in mercy as much as justice. I believe in ties that cross borders of value and idea. I believe we are different, but one. I believe in my son.
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