Monday, February 08, 2010


When we picked my husband up at the airport on Saturday night, there were two soldiers on the plane. One of the families had a sign welcoming back "Daddy, our hero."

I'm not in the habit of using the words "hero" or "honor" or that type of thing - I don't think most people in my generation are, unless they are being ironic. (Or if they are in the military, and I recognize that that is a completely different culture of which I have little knowledge.) And yet I felt an affinity with that family welcoming back their soldier husband and father.

I have felt in these few weeks as I imagine the wife of a deployed soldier would feel. Oh, I know there are many differences. Nobody was pointing guns at my husband, and he wasn't fighting. We were apart for weeks, not years (though we don't know how long the separation will stretch on once he goes back.) Another difference is that most spouses of a deployed soldier haven't lived in Iraq or Afghanistan, while I have lived for years in Haiti. That one works both ways - I care a lot about individuals in Haiti, which makes it difficult to be away, but on the other hand I don't see Haitians as scary or threatening, the way a military spouse probably sees the people that the soldier is dealing with.

But the similarities are there too. We are living very different lives, having different experiences that sometimes make it hard to feel a connection between us. I don't want to bother my husband with things that will distract him or make his job more difficult. I miss him. I'm proud of what he is doing.

I'm still hesitant to use the word "hero." (See how I can't even write it without putting it in quotes?) But I am so very proud of the people I know in Haiti, the way they are dealing with this situation. They are jumping in and doing what needs to be done in so many ways, whether pulling people out of rubble or setting up a clinic in their home or feeding people in their yard or interpreting or teaching in a one-room schoolhouse or drinking the first glass of water from an improvised filtering system so that the people around would know it was safe. Our alumni both in and out of Haiti have been amazing, volunteering in hospitals, donating huge amounts of money and supplies, doing concerts for relief, organizing fund-raising. They are facing the new reality with courage and faith and even humor, even though many of them have faced huge losses. It really is inspiring.

Somehow it helps me to think about this whole disaster as a war. It's way too big for me to think about all at once. It will go on a long time. Like the wars I've read about in history, it has caught people in all different situations - some in, some out, some in action, some on the home front. The only constant is that you have to respond to your circumstances with courage. You have to live one day at a time and do what needs to be done. You have to know there is a future, but you don't know what it is. You have to support the troops. (Of course I know there are real wars being fought right now, too, and back when I used to be a news junkie, I used to follow them pretty closely - but right now I can't.)

Back in 2008 when Haiti was hit by damaging hurricanes, I posted a link to C. S. Lewis' essay "Learning in Wartime." (Or I tried to - I had a hard time getting a link to work but at that post there are some instructions to find it.) This has been circulated again this time. I have it on my desktop and find it comforting to read it. For "the war" in the quote below, read "the earthquake."

The war creates no absolutely new situation: it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it. Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice. Human culture has always had to exist under the shadow of something infinitely more important than itself. If men had postponed the search for knowledge and beauty until they were secure the search would never have begun. We are mistaken when we compare war with "normal life". Life has never been normal.

I highly recommend reading the whole thing. Lewis' sanity is a huge boost to me in my time of war.


Janet said...

Your husband is behaving like a hero, staying in difficulty when he's not under compulsion, being generous, sharing his knowledge, assisting people in all kinds of ways.

You're heroic too, putting the interests of others -- your children, those in Haiti who need all the resources -- before your own.

So there. ;-)

(I love the Lewis essay. So true -- things have never been normal.)

Rich said...

I haven't had any difficulty in using the word hero in referring to Steve, and the other folks that are doing the work that he's been doing. I suppose one never knows what one will do in a situation like that until it happens. What he's doing is heroic. You have every right to be proud.