My firstborn son, the fledgling Marine, called me the other night from a field somewhere in North Carolina. He was cocooned in his Gore-Tex layered sleeping bag, which provided him with the cover he needed to place his forbidden call. It was January, and the bitter cold stretched from my home in Indiana to the East Coast. He and his group had been deposited by helicopter in this field for an overnight exercise.
Daniel told me he had finally learned when he would leave for Iraq and the city where he would be based, although he could not give me details just yet. I asked him how he was feeling about going to Iraq. He said he was okay with it.
If my son is okay with it, then I will be too. Young men like Daniel—partiers, paintballers, road-trippers—simply trade one set of risks for another when they enter the military. At least that’s how I’ve rationalized it. My son’s joining the Marines was no surprise: he came of age during the days of 9/11 and the so-called War on Terror.
I then swallow the last vestiges of my humanitarianism. It hurts in my throat, but I need to tell my son this: do what you have to do so that you come back home.
And I will say it to him again and again, even though I don’t believe in war or in the politics or the big money that drives it. I believe in art and in learning and in the peace that evolves from these best of human elements. I believe we could better serve humankind with armies of artists, musicians, and teachers, not armed sons and daughters. But my personal beliefs are momentarily suspended, for my son is a brand-new Marine. Duty bound, he will have brothers to fight with, a team to protect, a job to get done. As his mother, I believe in his unequivocal right to do whatever he needs to do in order to survive. When Daniel completes his deployment, I will be ready to absorb any displaced rage and fear, any bit of undigested war he brings back home with him. I vow to see to it that his heart and mind eventually find their way back home as well.
I was driving home from a late meeting when my son called. The moon in my skies lay behind a slight haze, but it shone steadfast and bright, nearly full. I asked Daniel if the moon was out where he was. He said hold on a moment—yes, he could see it too. I told Daniel I was looking at the moon at that very moment and that he and I were making a triangle with our trajectories of sight. The sunlight reflecting off that pockmarked orb was connecting me to my child just as surely as had I put my arms around him. I felt like a navigator and had found my star, and that star had found my son.