I wrote this small piece a few years ago, when my son was on active duty overseas. It has resided in my "Short Story" folder, unread, since then. I would like to share it with you now, with thoughts of safe harbor for all our children overseas, and with my unmitigated hope for peace, and the wish that our societies can someday evolve to prefer non-violent resolution to all conflicts -- here at home, or wherever "there" might happen to be. And I will add that my son did endure combat and injury, but he is back home, done and in school, forging ahead as a young adult, which is a difficult journey in and of itself, even under the simplest of circumstances.
My son called me last Wednesday morning. Usually, under any circumstance, it is great to hear from one's child; this call was a bit different, as my son is a United States Marine and he was calling from his combat outpost in southern Afghanistan. Being Veteran's Day, he and his buddies were given an opportunity to check in at home, and it was my son's turn at the phone.
I asked my son if it was desert-like where he was. He responded to the contrary, saying the area was beautiful, and that the large, farming families who lived in the area worked hard in their fields and cared well for their children. He said they were for the most part good, ordinary people. My son went on to explain his routine. He and his team would go out on 24-hour-long patrols, which were followed by a brief period of rest. Though the days were pleasant, the nights would get very cold. One night, close to the end of their patrol, the young men had found themselves feeling especially cold, wet and uncomfortable. An Afghani man invited them into his house and built a fire to warm them. The young Marines had twenty dollars between them. This, they gave to their Afghani, host in exchange for one of his chickens. My son explained that this man had been unable to go to work that day, so the generous amount the young men paid was done with the intention of helping him out. An Afghan soldier who accompanied my son's fire team butchered the chicken and dressed the carcass. The host cooked the chicken for the young men, which they ate with relish. My son said it was one of the best meals he had ever eaten.
My Grandfather, a larger-than-life man with blond hair and light blue eyes, was a retired captain of the German army. He cried when he spoke of the Second World War, his voice quavering when he dared mention the atrocities the SS had carried out in the name of the same country he had loyally, and blindly, served. His blond hair and his bright blue eyes had reappeared in my son, who to this day has eyes the color of a clear sky. My son serves in large part because he watched the Twin Towers fall; it left him with a desire to do something, anything to help out, to respond. I also believe he serves in memory of his grandfather, and to help override the unfortunate legacy my grandfather bore, like a Jacob Marley, to his last days.
I understand that amidst the ugliness of war there can be opportunities for the most profound redemption of mankind, and I give thanks for the beauty that exists in each simple act of wartime humanitarianism, no matter from which side it comes. I hope the memories of my son's meal will help carry my son in spirit no matter what else happens along the way.
I give thanks for my son's heartwarming call on that Veteran's Day morning. I give thanks for the technology, the great connection that gave me the chance to hear his voice, and so clearly. I give thanks to the Afghani soldier who accompanied my son, who did not turn on him, but instead prepared him something to eat. I give thanks to the Afghan citizen who opened his home to my son, and his companions, who did not ambush them but instead shared of the warmth of his hearth. I give thanks for the sustenance the chicken provided the young men, and I give thanks for the fledgling wisdom in their unadulterated appreciation of such a simple pleasure.
Even so, just before the call ends, I tell my son in my most casual tone of voice: Be on guard. Be always on guard. He reassures me he will be.
Until he is home again, I will do my part and remain the brave, proud Mom of a brave young man. I will keep my phone at my side day or night, I will write letters, I will send care packages and I will donate to the USO.
Please give thanks to our servicemen and women and do not forget them in this season of giving.