01/15/2014 by syrbal-labrys
I have been thinking a lot about that word this week, and in several senses of the word. Of course, since I often criticize Congress here in this space (and write them lots of nasty letters as well as ringing their phones off various hooks), that likely will spring to the minds of my readers. Well, elected or not, I don’t think many of the members of Congress in either House or Senate does much actual representing these days. Most of them are too rich to identify with any of the worries of ordinary Americans of the shrinking Middle Class, much less the growing ranks of the working poor or the unemployed.
No, the representation I have been thinking of has much more to do with the statements heard in music or conversation…people “representing” something of their class, race, gender and so forth. And it strikes me that in a very real sense, that is what bloggers do: they represent. Old songs ran through my head this week, especially since I seem to be ill again and not sleeping well. I hear “Sounds of Silence” in my head as I lay, too exhausted to even read; and Pink Floyd’s “On the Turning Away” as well. Musicians represent, and always have, don’t you think? They sing the zeitgeist that we live, and some songs just go on enduring like a winter of bronchitis that never ends. I’m told that music has changed since my youth when every third band was activist in lyrics. I’m not sure that is so; I think people my age have stopped listening to newer music and don’t hear the new/old messages replaying in desperate angry new tones.
But mostly, this morning, I am thinking, as I read about the body recovery of a Navy man whose helicopter crashed off the US coast (not even at war)— I think about the “representative” military member. You know, the people who represent us in war where the air is sometimes hot with lead? In those places where Congress only treads briefly for photo opportunities, through the unchanging sands of time and distant deserts? And just like that, in that moment of wondering what young wife, what parents, what siblings and friends are weepingly awaiting that homecoming; I am again undone.
And it dawns on me that I sent the wrong post to the Jon Swift Memorial Roundup (an angry feminist rant about rape culture and religion) after all. Because what I really represent is even more painful and wrenching, because I represent the undone. One son has gone twice to Afghanistan and come back physically intact, and though I certainly felt I was falling apart the entire time he was there in the “90% boring and 10% terrifying” situation that is military life, I am certainly more intact that those who have attended funerals and been gifted with flags instead of sons and daughters. What shreds me is actually how much that son of mine represents the usual military man.
Non-military families have a recruiting picture portrait in their heads. And yes, many families like my own have almost always had someone in uniform in every generation — sometimes it is indeed a tradition of service. That is why my eldest son joined, not only because he could find no job and wanted money for college, but because he believed in service to his country even if he knew he would not always agree with what that service might be. But my youngest son? Ah, such a different and painful picture. My “Runaway” who left home at fourteen when his beloved drunken, PTSD (Korea) damaged grandfather shot himself to death; he was already surely in turmoil as his PTSD (Viet Nam) damaged father and mother made war on each other over his entire childhood. We got him back off and on for a year, but he simply didn’t want to play the ‘go to school, get good grades, go to college’ game.
So he ran, skateboard in hand. And when he woke up one morning no longer the adorable sweet-faced 15 year old for whom pan-handling was easy? On a freezing winter morning in Colorado, he went to a recruiting station, took a GED test and signed on the dotted line. He became one of the young men in basic about whom my eldest son told me on his first call home from HIS basic days: “Mom, thank you for teaching me how to do things, and for being there. These guys? Most of them have NOTHING to go back to if they don’t make it here. They are desperate and scared. It is horrible.” Yeah, you could feel it right through the phone line. Even I, back in 1974, felt it in about 65% of the women in my Basic Training company — and we knew we weren’t going into a war zone. A lot of people in the military ARE what my husband was and my youngest son is — in flight from a desperate situation even into the arms of war. It is a gamble with death itself for a life they can’t even visualize clearly.
Yes, those “universal soldiers” sent by everyone else to do the killing and bleeding and enduring; but of course it is much more complicated than that. Young men and women with no chance at a paycheck, and told by much loud-mouthed commentary to not be “parasites” — at the end of Viet Nam, those who lived bore the response of their civilian countrymen. As if they, those ordinary young troops just wanting to eat regular and have a roof o’er head had devised the entire going to war bit. Oh, now there is some existential “bad faith” America! Blaming the “pawns” while the “kings” rake in the profits of war; and burying the dead in obscurity.
And I wonder, when their parents weep, when their spouses weep with a flag in their arms, do they feel the same sense of failure and loss I feel contemplating that possibility of a future myself. And I am undone, a bit like Humpty Dumpty in that nothing will quite put me back together again. A bit like the tens of thousands of military members coming home physically intact (but for a few prosthetic limbs?), but with PTSD that may shape decades of their lives to come? So, here I stand, inadequately representing the undone — forever on the edge of hope or loss; frozen like an insect in amber in the liminality of lies and war, of life and loss.