Merriam-Webster (http://www.m-w.com) describes war [in 1 a (1)] as “a state of usually open and declared armed hostile conflict between states or nations”. It’s a broad definition, it makes sense. You could read on for many other variations or components of the definition on their website, but you don’t really need to. War is war is war. You already think you know what it is.
Many of you may contradict me here, but let me go out on a limb for arguments’ sake. You think that war is bloody and gory. The blockbuster movie kind of stuff. Big guns, loud tanks, shooting and swearing. You might think it’s changed since World War One and Two. Not so trench warfare and more strategy and careful killing. You think it’s tragic, sad, maybe you don’t even see the point.
These things, whether you think them or not, may or may not all be true. Like I said, it’s only for arguments’ sake. I’ve never seen the horrors or hidden joys of war. I have never held a gun. I haven’t strategized a battle or planned a search-and-destroy. I don’t know what the definition of war is, because I’ve never been in it. I have, however, seen the other side of it. The side that some people forget about, while others spend their whole lives consumed in it. You know when you see a cross-stitch, one side beautiful, delicately and precisely created by someone’s steady hand? Have you ever turned it over, to see knots and frayed strings, looking like such a mess you can’t believe how the other side is even able to stay together?
That’s my side of war.
It’s hundreds of family members in a giant drill hall, holding baloons and flowers and cards instead of C-9’s or those tube-like things that make a big thud. They help carry bags and drag heavy rucksacks instead of one-man-one-kit. They hold back their tears as everyone forms up and then waits to let them overflow (or not) until they load onto a bus or a plane. The start of the war.
Now, it’s time to survive day-to-day. Going to bed alone. Waking up alone. Cooking, cleaning, working, raising children, heck – having children! All alone. It doesn’t matter if it’s Monday or the weekend. If it’s your birthday or Christmas or your anniversary. You keep fighting through everyday, knowing it’s another day closer.
Don’t forget about the news. TV, radio, or even driving by the nearest Canadian flag. It’s scary. You don’t know what you are going to see or hear. How many seconds, minutes, or hours are spent wondering? Between the time that they announce there was a soldier killed, until they are able to release the name. Until you breath that sigh of relief, or for some, let out sobs of sorrow and grief.
Just like that cross-stitch I talked about, one side is falling apart, frayed and frazzled. But somehow, it manages to keep the other side held together, strong. The familes, they go through a lot. They have hard days, moments of weakness, tears and self-pity. But when the phone rings, you still answer with the most cheerful hello you can muster. Excitement rises through the mess of other emotions, to hear his or her voice on the other end and to know that they are doing okay. You might cry a little but overall you keep that ugly side of the cross-stitch tucked well away.
Some wars are long. They are years long. Some wars are shorter and seem to resolve more quickly. Either way, war is war is war. Anticipating its end is almost as daunting as the war itself. Counting down the days. Maybe you cross off days on a calendar, or update your Facebook status religiously. Eventually that someone who is over there, will come back here. Two weeks’ holiday. Cease-fire. The end of war.
Remember that I’m not being literal here – the private battles I’m writing about figuratively are not meant to overshadow the very real wars going on in the world. I am writing this for the Moms, my mom, and the children, like me. The wives and husbands. The parents. The siblings, like Kevin – who’s brother went first. For the girlfriends and boyfriends who are often forgotten. For anyone who loves the kind of person who puts their life on the line for their country. Soldiers give their service, their honour, and their duty and put it on the line.
We can never repay you, except by putting our hearts on the line, too.
So, Dad – my hero for all of the times you left to fly half way around the world. You have experienced things I can never imagine, never want to imagine. You are so brave. Mom and I, we were at war too, but it was you who did the real work. I love you, and I could never guess what you went through, just like you couldn’t imagine it from our perspective. Your strength and dedication have influenced my life, thank you. Always know, we had our hearts on the line every time.
And Kevin, the love of my life. The only man who doesn’t fill my Dad’s shoes, but somehow manages to walk the same path in my life. You haven’t left yet, but you will. It’s almost worse because I know what’s coming. You tell me it will go by quickly, those 9 months, but I’ve watched my Mom ache to have her husband home. I almost feel the pain already. So please remember every day that even though I am at home, doing the mundane day-to-day things that I have to do, while you are doing something much more important, remember that my heart is on the line right there with yours every step of the way. Okay?