War and Vacation

Last night my friend Eric, a veteran of combat from Vietnam, sent me an e-mail including the following:

On an unrelated subject, click on the link and watch the Keith Olbermann "Comment..." from last night: www.msnbc.msn.com/id/24632990/
And get back to me, please, with your thoughts on it. I started out chuckling at the whipping Keith was so intelligently laying on our drunken frat boy president but by the end the horror of it all had tears running down my cheeks.

I watched the clip, and so should you. These days I look hard for reasons to remain proud of my country, despite the global havoc we are wreaking in the name of “freedom,” and find one here: that at least we’ve not yet been completely stripped of the freedom to speak truth to power. God bless Keith Olbermann.

So, here is the emailed response I just sent out to Eric. By way of introduction, the “cottage” is a wonderful place nestled in the lush backyard of our Old Spanish house, that we’ve made available for vacation rentals ( more info at: www.lostreefcottage.blogspot.com/):


Dear Eric:

I LOVE this guy. And yes, the truth here is painful. There is definitely (I am speaking seriously here) a delusional, paranoid, and psychotic (literally, “break from reality”) aspect to Bush’s consciousness. Any fool could see that he’s created the very dilemma against which he rants.

But not him alone. The woman who cut my hair yesterday was expressing heartfelt anguish at the number of people who come in to her comfy hair salon and express support for the President and his wars. It is depressing. It’s as if every checks and balance system that matters has broken down.

Last week we had a party book the cottage, and then not show up and arrive the next day. They had three small very sick children in the car and had traveled very far (some from Maine), and were exhausted. They were with the brother to one of them, who lives in Homestead, and hadn’t realized that the Cottage was so far away. He had tried to call me the night before, etc. They asked for a refund, and though I had the technical right to keep their money I told them not to worry, a full refund would be made. I would not add to their burden.

I had a brief conversation with one of the mothers who looked the most tired, a young attractive busty blonde. I paid particular attention to her bust because she wore a low cut blouse, and had three tattoos across. I inquired about the center one, an intricate interweaving of green lines in a circular pattern, reminiscent of the shape of a cross. I asked if it was Celtic in origin, and she said indeed it was. “It stands for motherhood,” she said. “It’s magnificent,” I told her. “Really cool.”

So as she steps in to the car and closes the door shut, her brother offers his hand and says “Hey, I just wanna say…thank you for being so cool about everything.” “Listen,” I said, “not a problem. No big deal.” He glanced her way and then looked down at the ground for a second. “It’s been real rough,” he said. “Her husband was killed in Iraq four months ago.” I was stunned. I wanted to cry. “Those are their babies in there?” I asked. “Two of ‘em,” he said, “the 4 and 2 year old.”

“Oh, my GOD,” I might’ve said out loud. When I heard that, I had to go to her. Instinctively, I knew this. Where there is a fire, I have to go. So I went and tapped on her car window, the front passenger’s seat. The power window didn’t work, so she had to open the door. I took her hand and said, “I just wanted to say, I’m sorry it didn’t work out this time, for your stay. I hope that some day you’ll come back.” She smiled. “So who are these beautiful babies,” I asked. There were two girls strapped in to the second seat. They were hams as only little girls can be. They were beautiful, and innocent. The third child, the 2 year old, a boy, was I guess asleep somewhere in the back of the van. They were introduced and I greeted them warmly. The second one was the 4 year old. She smiled at me with some ancient wisdom, I cannot really describe it. You just wanted to grab this child and hug her. “This one’s up to something BIG,” I said. “She is something else!” Everybody smiled, the little girl chuckled with delight and then smiled like the Mona Lisa, strapped in to her car seat.

I touched the woman’s arm and said “I hope the rest of your trip is better. It will have to be. You all travel safe, now.” I guess that this was the best way I could love them. This was the best way I could honor the sacrifice that had been made. I so wanted it to mean something, I mean the fact of this young man’s death, but just couldn’t see it. Yet certainly the shame was not his; he had been only a footsoldier doing his prescribed duty. Imaginary pretenses, real consequences. For this tired mother at the tail end of a road trip that’s supposed to be a “vacation,” doing such a magnificent job of holding it all together for the children, life is different now. When she wakes up in the morning, when she goes to sleep, her lover is dead. I imagine that she’ll never know exactly why or how, and doubt that would help, in any case. It is just the way things are. It is a huge goddamn shame.

I smiled as I waved Goodbye. These people were really just awfully nice. But I couldn’t help but think, “GOD DAMN IT. They’ll never know their Daddy. GODDAMIT.”

I just thought I’d share with you how the Iraq “war” touched my life, last week.

Thank God you are among the living, Eric. And God bless all your fellow soldiers-at-arms that never came home alive. May their sufferings, and that of those who will always love them, be redeemed. May a sense of hope revitalized prove to be the main crop produced in the Great Field given unto our care for tending.


Paul Hampton

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