I saw something today that has lingered with me ever since. I should set this us properly first. I love in Columbus, Georgia. I'm as far west in Georgia as you can be and still remain in the state. If I were to drive three miles from this house, I'd be in Alabama. I also live 15 minutes from Fort Benning, the largest Army training base in the States. Having spent most of my life here and truly considering this home, I've had the opportunity to meet many soldiers and many of their families. I have a special place in my heart for them, as the job the do is one that I personally could never do and I think it is admirable work for not anywhere near the amount of money they deserve. I feel the same way about teachers, but that's another story. Every culture in the world is represented in some form or fashion 20 minutes from where I live, which is really amazing. If you live in a military town, it is impossible to not be reminded of that in some way all of the time. Soldiers and their families are as much a part of our everyday lives as streets, grass, and air are. Before I get into what happened today, I want to tell the story of someone I met when I was a little boy, whose husband was stationed here.
Her name (I do not remember his) was Samirah, and I loved and was fascinated by her completely. Every time I saw her, she broke into this huge smile and crouched down so that I could run into her arms and get a really big hug, which was every time I saw her. She wore these amazingly exotic clothes the likes of which I had never seen before, and had a Yoruba-tinged accent that I could listen to for hours on end and never grow tired of. They were both born and raised in Nigeria. I spent some of my time on the weekends at their apartment, learning to speak different words in Yoruba, which was her native language, but I don't remember his. They took me places and cooked this amazing food, and read books to me that sounded like words being woven into brightly colored quilts. All I really remember of him was that he was the darkest man I'd ever met and that his skin was so shiny it looked like he were carved from a grand piano. That and he was very quiet and observant. My mother has pictures of them somewhere, from the last time they came to visit before moving away - a fact of life for military families and the civilians they grow to love and leave behind. I recall that in the pictures I sat in her lap for the duration of her stay, and that after she left I cried for a really long time. She left me one of her red geles, which I could never wrap around my own head like she did. Anyway, the point was that she was only a part of my young life for a very brief time, but I loved her dearly in the time I knew her. I can still remember her face, and the way she smiled at me as I tore across a room to run up into her open arms, and the way all of that felt to me.
Late this morning Damien and I were walking into a restaurant for a late breakfast and as we were walking in a young solder was walking out hurriedly. He politely excused himself for nearly running over us in the doorway, and I followed him with my eyes to see if there might be trouble. He walked over to a minivan in the parking lot that had several people pouring out of it. The young man he walked over to resembled him slightly and was taking a huge duffel bag out of the back of the van. An older man and a woman, presumably the young man's parents, greeted the approaching soldier, who took the duffel bag and shook hands with the father. There were others, I assume they were siblings and possibly aunts and uncles. and then it happened.
The mother burst into tears as she took her son into her arms, and the rest of the family huddled in rather close. I was bearing witness to something I had seen at least a hundred times before, families attempting badly to say goodbye to a loved one who was on his or her way to basic training and a career in the military. Only this was the first time I had bore witness to such an event when so many people I knew personally were either currently in or recently had been in Iraq. I felt like an intruder, gawking away at this spectacle, even though I was just standing against the wall of the restauraunt we decided not to even go into. I felt the sadness of time family like it was my own.
We got in the truck and started to drive away, but I asked Damien to turn around and go back. I asked one of the people piling back into the van if they would like me to take a family picture for them, and that I would email it as soon as I got home. They politely thanked me and explained that they took plenty of pictures, so I smiled and we drove away. It is hard not to wonder if that was the last time they will ever see him alive again as a civilian, because even though that is highly unlikely, you never know. So I'm sending good energy to that family tonight, and to all of the families who love someone that is no longer in hugging range.