I was so glad recently to receive your most recent writings. My apologies that it has taken me so long to respond. The last few weeks have been hectic ones: there have been many responsibilities at the hospital, and at home we have been having the pleasure of working with our second daughter as she considers her next step toward college. The practical day-to-day’s of life, in other words.
In addition, I managed to finish the initial manuscript for “Listening to War: Year One,” believe it or not. I know: the book has essentially already been written, given that it’s a compilation of last year’s blog posts. I had a lot of editing to do, though (given my propensity to go on and on in parentheses, such as I’m doing now), plus a lot of formatting.
My wife has always dreaded my suggestion that we periodically bring in a cleaning service for special events, stating that she couldn’t get the house clean enough for the cleaners to come in. Previously I’d thought that was, frankly, nuts. Having now spent so much time editing text so that it can be edited, I have a new appreciation for her position.
Having now read what you’ve written, though, I also know that I have had to prepare myself to write you back. I’ve been thinking about how many of you and your brothers and sisters have told me that when you signed up for the military, you both knew what you were getting into—and had no clue.
Having experienced your essays so far, I can say the exact same about my own undertaking of this project.
I stare at my laptop screen, my dog quietly asleep next to me on the couch, enjoying an early morning quiet that will soon disappear into the frantic details of my very pedestrian life. Not only cannot I not find “the” word, I cannot even find the concept to describe my feelings at the moment.
Both “gratitude” and “appreciation” feel too precious, too diplomatic, even. Yet within those words are a thought and an emotion that, together, indeed form the correct description.
You have invited me into your War Within, Winston. You have asked me to present that War to the world and then to respond to it, to help keep you alive, in my writing, as The War Within speaks.
Having now read these first missives from that War, I know my duty: to hold on to you, to the handsome—may I say it?—boy, yet man who “should” know nothing more than the “battles” of your yukking it up with the other boys/men in front of ESPN, each one of you jockeying for position over who today is the most witty, most incisive pseudo-commentator, all while the “girls”/women are sitting in the other room, talking about what really matters—and doesn’t matter at all.
I make you this promise, Winston: with each essay written by The War Within that I present, I will respond to you. I do understand that you cannot speak you right now, certainly with anything even approaching a consistency that you can find meaningful. The War Within is too powerful.
I therefore can only speak my experience and understanding of you. However, I hope that such an experience and understanding can become close enough to the “you” of you that they can serve as an anchoring points for you to grab onto and then to respond to, correcting me when I get you wrong, encouraging me when I get you right.
If in doing so I give you a spot at which you can spend a few moments with you as The War Within rages around you, then I will have accomplished what I am most glad to accomplish.
“Looking forward” to accomplishing? Not hardly. But then as you sat on that plane to Kuwait, preparing yourself to do what you had chosen to do, whether or not others agree with or support that choice, you weren’t “looking forward” to your upcoming accomplishments as well, were you? You knew that you might not return, after all.
You didn’t yet know, though, did you, that you might not return.
My job is to let you know that he did. Whether you now know it or not.
I am glad to choose that job. That, I can say with certainty.
Let us begin.