Editor’s note: In today’s issue, The Purcell Register salutes all who served in the military. Rini Jeffers is two-time Best Columnist of the Year in Ohio and is a nationally recognized award-winning columnist. She wrote the following for The Chronicle Telegram in Elyria, Ohio when her nephew deployed to Afghanistan.
This is for you, mothers of fighters.
I know, sometimes, it is hard for you to see them that way. Long before they took up the uniform and left for basic training, long before they learned the platoon cadence and you got that first photo of them standing in front of the flag, you saw them learn to walk.
Can this be the same boy who gave you oatmeal kisses? The same princess who brought you dandelions? Where did they go?
And then one day you are standing there as they are sworn in with a bunch of other kids their age, and you’re silently praying the whole time: Watch over him. Keep her safe.
You pray the same thing two months later, when you watch them graduate.
The military is so good at ceremony. The flags, the precision movements – it all stirs in you such patriotism you find yourself screaming along. You love your country. You’re just not sure you’d give your child’s life for it.
Your pride – and your fear – hold hands.
Then they move off to their first duty station far from you, probably for the first time in their lives. It’s a learning experience for both of you. They’re becoming an adult. You’re becoming the mother of an adult. It can be an uneasy fit but you can’t fight this current that started flowing the day they were born, the river that is taking them away from you.
You are so proud when you tell your friends “I am the mother of a Marine. My daughter is in the Air Force. My son is second-generation Army. My girl is in the Navy.” You buy the sweatshirt; you put a sticker on your back window.
And then… Then. You get the call. “Mom, I’m leaving for Afghanistan.”
Or Iraq, or Syria, or any of a number of other hots pots in the world.
Then begins The Long Wait, a season of prayer and tears and missed holidays and sometimes the birth of babies and the death of friends. You pack boxes of beef jerky and cookies, books and pictures of their pets, clippings from hometown newspapers and letters.
War is different now. Sometimes you can Skype your missing child. Spouses can stay in touch. Texts can fly through the air even in war zones, on good days.
You pray for a lot of good days.
Your child tells you they’re bored, and you try not to jump up and down with tears of joy. You want them bored. You pray for that, too.
You can’t watch the news. Every time they mention the country where your child is, you freeze. You can’t breathe. You remind yourself to breathe.
Sometimes you find solace in comforting the spouse they left behind. You feel for their struggle, and their loneliness and their worry – but it is different for you.
You are the mother. This child that you would not allow to play in the streets is in a war zone. This child you protected from playground bullies is surrounded by people who want to kill him, a million miles from you.
You wonder, if the worst happens and they leave this world, you will physically feel it. If the military won’t need to send uniformed chaplains to your door to tell you, because you will know.
Wonder of wonders, your warrior comes home.
Safe and sound, in one piece. Skinnier, scruffier, and maybe his eyes are a little different, but they are home and you don’t care. You drive hours to meet the plane, standing among so many others waving signs, new babies, and so many anxious days hanging on them like a shawl.
There is much pageantry. Talk of heroes and flags, and the number of rockets shot down by the unit, by your child. You look at them in their desert camouflage and jump boots and remember when they made guns out of toast.
And then it’s done, the speeches, the homecoming rally. Husbands and wives go first, embracing the loved ones they so long missed.
You stand to the side, marveling at how tall he seems. How – soldierly.
How, you wonder, can your heart be standing before you, outside of your body?
You know this could have ended differently. You’ve seen the mothers who have greeted their child’s casket, who are handed a folded flag instead of a miniature one on a stick like the one you’re clenching.
Their child was just as brave, just as patriotic, just as willing to serve as yours. It is a whim of fate or timing that brought your child back to you.
Maybe, in all ways and all circumstances, this has always been true.
And you vow, right then and there: I will never take that for granted again.