Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Far Away From Happily Ever After

It seems to me that a lot of time is spent in these United States grappling over big picture stuff. Any one of the countless folks who is smarter than I am noted a long time ago that it is the details where the Devil lies. Often it appears to me - in my self-created role as dispassionate observer (well - more or less anyway) that these days we spend too little time examining the details. Too little time peeling that first layer of skin off of the onion to really consider what lies beneath. Too few of us take the words of Shrek to heart. Or take the time to consider that the big stinky green fella was not speaking solely of onions being complex characters....or of ogres for that matter.

Regardless of your personal politics - and I beg you to take me at face value on this point for I care less about the politics of others than any human being I know - and your point of view on the (a) wisdom, (b) legality, or (c) purpose of our involvement in either theatre, for close to the last ten years there have been men and women who wear the uniforms of this nation's several military branches fighting a war in Iraq and in Afghanistan. It somehow always seems to me to make it sound equal parts romantic and benign when we speak of men and women "in combat" as if we are speaking of a particular place. We describe it as if "in combat" is a neighborhood or an enclave of some type - perhaps just up the coast a bit from Malibu or a bit further west on the Island than the Hamptons.

Jazzing up the language a bit permits us perhaps to dull our own senses to what the men and women who are presently spending their day-to-day in a combat zone are required to do just to make it from one day to the next. They do not simply "engage" the enemy. They are often times tasked with the responsibility of killing other human beings who are tasked with a responsibility that mirrors their own. With the exception of one or more members of the FIJI fraternity on a night or two a long, long time ago while I roamed as a Buffalo (only ten days until opening day vs. CSU!) I have never consciously put my head on my pillow at night in the presence of an individual or individuals who not only wanted harm to befall me but were prepared to do what they could to make it happen. I have never in my life caught a whiff of anything that even passes as a distant relative of combat. I do not know - and I would not pretend otherwise - how those who do live in such a pressurized environment survive the experience.

The problem (I think anyway) with big picture analysis and the effort (often foisted upon us by one of more of the talking television Towers of Babel who spew forth their opinions on every cable "news" network) to paint a multi-color world exclusively in black and white is that the bigger the screen is, the harder it is to break the image down into its individual pixels. We grasp I guess that the whole is composed of its parts. We forget I fear that the parts - the layers that make up the whole - are not in fact statistics. They are not pixels either. They are people. They are someone's family. And when they are killed, the ripple upon the surface of the lives of those of us who occupy the world at large is nothing compared to the effect that most of us do not have to see - the effect upon the lives of the family who has lost one who its members loved.

Yesterday's Star-Ledger announced the death in Afghanistan of U.S. Army Specialist Pedro Millet. According to the paper, Millet was from Elizabeth and he is the twenty-fourth service member from New Jersey to die while serving in Afghanistan - joining somewhere in the neighborhood of 1oo of his brothers and sisters in arms from the State of Concrete Gardens who have died while serving in Iraq. Millet was twenty years old. I do not know what a Specialist in the United States Army does although the article said that Millet's unit's first assignment upon arriving in Afghanistan last Friday was sweeping for mines. In the photograph of him that accompanied the article, proudly wearing his uniform, he looked closer to sixteen than to twenty.

His death leaves a void that his family (including three younger siblings) will struggle to fill. The point, from my admittedly limited perspective as a father of two young adults who are a few years older than Pedro Millet - including one who has a job that I admit makes me nervous most days and scares the hell out of me on the rest of them - that Pedro Millet died while serving his country is a valid one, an honorable one but not necessarily the most important one. Not now.

His service and his honor are among the things that hopefully shall comfort his parents and his brothers and sisters in their time of grief. They are the things that hopefully shall comfort them and bring solace to them months from now - or perhaps even weeks from now given the collective ADD from which we all seem to suffer - when the world-at-large has moved on to mourn the loss of other service men and women and to debate the merits of the conflict in which they were engaged when they died.

For now and for always the rest of us - me included - need to be mindful of the fact that 20 year-old Pedro Millet was not and is not simply a number. He was not and is not simply a statistic. He was not and he is not simply a casualty of war - an anonymous reference point to be relied upon in a cable television pseudo-debate. He was and he is his parents' son. He was and he is his younger siblings' big brother. He was and he is everything to them. His death was and it is their loss. We hear of it, we express our sadness/regret/sorrow over it and we are permitted to resume our day-to-day. For them it is not so simple. It is not easy now. It may not get any easier later on.

'Neath the shiny outer layer of numbers and statistics lies the substance of the thing; right? It is not numbers or statistics that comprise the layers underneath. It is the heart and the soul of the whole. It is the individuals. It is now - and sadly so for his family - comprised in part of Pedro Millet - a 20 year-old kid from Elizabeth, New Jersey who arrived in Afghanistan on Friday. And who died in Afghanistan on Sunday. It is a parent's worst nightmare to outlive and to have to bury a child. It is an upsetment to what is perceived to be the natural order of the universe. It is one of the two things I fear most of all.

Now the sun's gone to Hell

And the moon's riding high.

Let me bid you farewell,

Every man has to die.

But it's written in the starlight

And every line on your palm.

We are fools to make war

The proof is found not in the statistics and I for one do not give a rat's ass about them. It is found in the layers underneath. Peel away the onion's skin......

...and try not to shed a tear. I double dog dare you.


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