The Burden of Knowledge, The Bliss of Relief

I wrote this a while ago, but I thought about it again today, and thought I would share it with you guys.

This morning, I got to talk to my friend Weaver. I’ve known him since I was 16; he worked at the Army recruiting station next to the tanning bed where I worked. He would come in and visit us at night, and sometimes I would whine enough and he would vacuum for me. I haven’t seen him since right after my 17th birthday. He’s in Iraq right now. This morning, I finally asked when he was coming home. When he said it was less than a month, I felt a feeling wash over me…something like….relief.

I grew up with what my dad calls the “burden of knowledge”. He was in the Army until I was 18, and in those 18 years, we moved well over a dozen times and I attended about as many schools. I always adjusted faster and fit in better at schools on post, where I was surrounded with others who shared the burden of knowledge. To this day, I have a hard time identifying with my peers who weren’t raised the way I was.

The burden of knowledge is that concept that most people choose to ignore; but that we couldn’t: the knowledge that there is pure evil in the world; the acknowledgement of those hovering on the periphery of humanity, the rim of sanity, who are constantly threatening our safety, our freedom. The “burden of knowledge” is found in those who grow up knowing this, coming face to face with it everyday, as we watch our neighbors, fathers, brothers don their ACUs and board Chinooks bound for the other side of the globe, unsure every time of whether or not they will come back. We grew up knowing that true peace is not necessarily a realistic concept, because men are inherently wicked, as evidenced each time that black government vehicle pulled up to a neighbor’s house, uniformed men handing an envelope over to a sobbing newly-widowed Army wife, a woman who, like any other, wanted nothing more than a happily ever after with the man of her dreams. I felt that reality every time I heard about a helicopter crash on the news growing up, felt the familiar clenching in my throat, the sinking in my stomach, hoping it wasn’t my father, but knowing that if it wasn’t my father, it was someone else’s. I know it every time I see my ex-boyfriend, and see the dog tags dangling from his neck, knowing that they’re little more than aids in death, one destined to become a toe tag, the other heading to his commander, and eventually to his parents. I know it every time my brother and I put joking wagers on who will be injured in the Middle East first; me, working in an embassy, or him, flying helicopters above the chaos. I know it because really, we aren’t joking.

I grew up on various forts, posts, and bases, surrounded by walls and fences, kept segregated from a society I didn’t understand, and who in turn didn’t understand me or the way I was raised. And I wish I could describe it to you and do it justice. It's amazing to me, to think that I grew up on a street surrounded by America's heroes. I could be surrounded by the biggest movie stars in the world and it wouldn't come close to the sheer GREATNESS that I was so blessed to be around every day of my life. I am so grateful for that. To lay your life on the line for people you don't even know--that is noble. To go into a war that you might not believe in or agree with but still be willing to die to do your duty....that is loyalty.

Because it's sick when Lindsay Lohan is on the front page of the newspaper...and a story about soldier deaths in Iraq is on the back page, at the bottom, in a teeny little box that no one will pay any attention to. Because once a certain amount of soldiers die, 2 or 3 what? Right? WRONG. Because any one of those men could be my father. Or my brother, my ex-boyfriend, neighbor. Or someone I know. Someone my parents know. But does anyone care??? No. Why don't you care when these are the men who are keeping you free? You should care wholeheartedly. You should be GRATEFUL for that.

I can't describe what it was like when my dad retired. Looking around at that ceremony, at all those soldiers in their ACUs, and looking at the American flag, and thinking, this is what my father chose to do with his life, was one of the most amazing feelings in the world…and suddenly I found myself sobbing uncontrollably; I can’t imagine what it was like for him, the loss he must have felt leaving what has been his home since he was a teenager..I felt the loss, I felt the pride, I felt more things than I could keep track of. He has made a real difference in the world. Bono makes a ruckus about everything..but has he DONE anything??? NO. I'm so proud. I have been an Army daughter, sister, and girlfriend. The sad part is I don't think half of you could understand that. I have faith in this government. And I have faith in our military. I'm so thankful that that was my way of life, despite all the hard parts of it. Despite watching my daddy go away to war. Despite having to move every year. It was worth it. It's worth it to know what it costs to be free. It's worth it to know with every fiber of my being that I am lucky. That I am truly, truly blessed to have grown up like I have. I wish that all of you reading this could know that feeling. Because it is incredible. There's so much ceremony and tradition and prestige in every part of that life.

The last time I felt relief like I did talking to Weaver this morning, I was standing in an air hanger in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. I had been there for hours, shaking wildly. It had been a year since I had seen my dad, and I was angry. I had just finished my freshman year of high school. He had moved my family to North Carolina, and left for Iraq days later. He had missed my first day of high school and innumerable other important things. For the entire time he was gone, I couldn’t bring myself to talk to him on the phone. And then there I was, standing there, surrounded by hundreds of other family members and friends, waiting. The plane landed. The troops marched in, and there he was, in front. My mom and I were standing literally ten feet from him, but there was a ceremony to finish before the troops were dismissed, and he was in charge of it. I could have reached out and touched him. But as always, duty came first. I can’t imagine what it was like for him, seeing us, but not being able to go to us right away, after so long. As he was giving orders, I heard his voice crack and falter, and suddenly, I was shaking and crying in a way I can’t remember ever doing before or since then. The next thing I knew, I was squished in between my parents, everyone crying and kissing, and I felt it. Relief. It washed over me over and over again. It was over.

That feeling, knowing what he had done, what he had been through…that relief makes the burden of knowledge worth it. The pride makes every sleepless night, every missed birthday, every tearful Thanksgiving prayer worth it.

The burden of knowledge is nothing compared to the bliss of relief.

1 "bhebek"s:

hemlinesheadlines said...

I just commented about Cairo, but... ALSO, my dad was in the Air Force for 25 years, until I was 19. So this post was so resounding. I just literally wrote an essay on here & then deleted it, since you clearly already get everything I was trying to say. Anyway, even more props to you. I'm so glad I discovered this blog.