I ran into an acquaintance at the gym this week. For almost 11 years, we traveled in our local chamber circles, citywide school band concerts and now the gym. I won’t pretend to be anything beyond the “I know her” relationship. She is a lovely person with a great sense of humor. We just never connected beyond a superficial business relationship.
When I asked her how her family was doing, she hesitated and looked away. Then replied fine. I asked if she was sure. Then, she dropped a bombshell: They had just buried her 23-year-old stepson the day before. He had returned from Afghanistan, was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and was unable to heal. And, that it was the first time she had been out of the house since it happened.
I was stunned. As I made the cursory, “I am so sorry” comment, I realized that this was really phony. We do this all the time — all of us. Don’t act like we don’t. Someone else suffers, we are shocked and then we go on about our lives. So, despite the fact that I was somewhat sweaty from yoga class (yeah, I am a girl who sweats in yoga), I hugged her. It seemed more genuine. I did apologize for being sweaty, but she was going in to a cardio class, so my fate was soon to be hers anyway.
I knew this woman had remarried and that she had sons of her own. I did not know enough about her life to realize she had any stepchildren or that they would be old enough to serve in the military at this time. But for that moment, I shared her loss as a Mother and human being. I could only imagine the grief her family was shouldering. The torment they would feel as parents not being able to help their son heal. The realization that their son is gone — permanently from this earth — and spent the last moments of his life a tortured soul. The loss is staggering and I am praying that God will heal their family.
I left her in the studio and made my way to my car, immediately thinking about my 13 year-old son. In less than five years, he will legally be able to vote, strap on a uniform and serve his country, if he so chooses. He has made overtures that he is interested in becoming a US Navy Seal. How genuine will I be in supporting him if this is what he chooses?
Would my fate ever be that of this stepmom and so many other parents who bury their children after they served in the military? I wholeheartedly believe in “duty, honor, country” but do I believe it enough to potentially sacrifice one of my own children to this cause? Any cause? I grew up a military brat with siblings who served. My husband served in the US Air Force as did his Dad and sister. But would I be able to say yes when asked?
Despite a Mother’s worry, I believe I would honor my son’s decision and support him in any way possible. Part of being a good parent is giving our children wings and letting them fly. We cannot hold them back from their dreams, desires or destinies even when the path might be dangerous. We have to have faith that they will persevere and that God will carry us through our times of sorrow, if they do not.