Last night I went to Encinitas for the book reading event for Operation Homecoming, a new anthology of war writings from sailors, soldiers, marines and airman and their families from during the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. It was a pretty powerful night. The San Diego MCRD band played a few songs, my favorite of which was the Armed Forces Salute. There were several active and retired service men and women in the audience and watching them stand at attention as their song was played was pretty intense for me. Being surrounded by members of my community who had served and/or have family members and loved ones currently serving gave me a real sense of belonging. I love being in a room where I know that I am connected with everyone else through my sense of pride in Mike for what he and others are doing, and have done, both currently and in the recent and distant past. I love being in a room where patriotism is the feeling du jour...where's it's normal, natural and even welcomed! It was not a political night. It was not a night where anyone (hardly) spoke of the war as the news syndicates speak of it. Instead, it was a night that emphasized the individual impact of war - how service members and their families deal with the realities of war on a daily basis. The book is filled with emails, letters, poems and stories about life, love and loss and it's both heartbreaking and uplifting at once. I was thinking about a couple things last night as I sat in that auditorium listening to the stories from these newly-made and most well-deserving authors. I was thinking about my Grandfathers who both served and how little I ever heard them say about anything traumatic. I heard many more stories from my Dad's dad (mostly because my Mom's Dad died before I was old enough to really begin asking serious questions) about how he and his buddy Sergent Wiecheck (sp?) from Ohio got in trouble one evening because they were speeding along back roads during WWII to get back to base in time to see the Red Cross movie. He told me of the V-mail he received and how much he enjoyed getting those letters - and sending them. He had lots of stories, but he only shared with me the ones that would bring a smile to my face...not the realities of what he had been through, even the heartache at being away from his family. I thought a lot about both of them last night and how much different things are now that email and Instant Messaging and phone calls have replaced the long-awaited letters arriving by post. It would be good if I could remember how lucky I am to be living and going through this experience now. I was also thinking about Mike and what stories he might have that he isn't, can't or won't share with me about this experience for him. It's hard to get inside someone's head - or dig out from your own head - those instances or memories that might be traumatic or troubling or emotionally intense in some way as they are happening. As I sat there listening to other stories, I wondered what stories Mike might be living at that very moment...it was a sobering thought. This isn't fiction, I reminded myself. In some ways it is so much better than fiction - it's real, it's life.
You can see the schedule of readings across the country if you click here...if it comes anywhere near you, you should check it out.