When you brought him home for the first time, wreathed in magic as all newborns are, tender as spring growth, his spirit like a just-opened flower; when you were still his whole world; when he said his first words; when you watched him take his first steps; when the cuffs of his pants were in a losing race to cover ankles sprinting south from fast-growing legs; when he developed a sudden interest in the stars, or dinosaurs, or venus flytraps; when he suddenly became too big to hug and kiss; when he became a Boy Scout and slowly and methodically began collecting badges ’til he became Eagle Scout; when he served at the altar of your church; when he planted 1,100 trees; when he did things you didn’t like and heartily disapproved of; when he did things that made you near explode with pride; when he one day developed facial hair; when one day he caught you looking at him to see if you could still see the baby he once was in the outlines of the adolescent he became; when one day he reached manhood, a new land of his own making, one you recognized from pictures but had never visited yourself; when he enlisted; when you hoped he would have a chance to email every few days to keep in touch; when you held your breath before you heard from him; when late at night you used every ounce of will to keep your all-too vivid imagination at bay; when on April 4, 2004, your world did crash into stillness and quiet and disbelief, because the imaginings were no talisman against reality; when searing, heart-rending wails overtook the silence; when tears that seemingly had no end kept coming up from the bucket you threw down into grief like the longest, deepest, darkest well; Cindy Sheehan, did you ever? Did you ever believe such unbearable sorrow would be yours?
I was a new mother when I first heard about you, in news reports that said how you met with President Bush and received his anemic condolences. Like others, I had ranted, raved, marched, written letters to the editor and my elected representatives, done everything in my feeble power to prevent this war being waged. As a parent of a 10-month old infant then (now 4), I knew that the way I cherished and adored my child is how loving parents everywhere feel about their children, and that no one’s child is a life that should be spent thoughtlessly–as carelessly as the many dollars that have gone into this war.
When I heard your story, I felt our country had failed you, our president had failed you, our Congress had failed you, and our media had failed you. And somehow, I felt I had failed you and others like you. My heart went out to you and every single Gold Star Parent whether or not they agreed with you. My heart went out to the Iraqi people, who were never consulted and never asked for any of this devastation.
I can only imagine the pain you felt then and feel now at the death of your son. But I can try to follow how your grief transformed and became righteous fury, how you became driven to pierce the nation’s consciousness with your sustained interrogation of Bush–”Why?” “How?”–and your demand that President Bush look you in the eyes and justify the war in Iraq. This war that has been waged with fraudulent evidence and at an incalculable cost. I can applaud your resolve that your son’s death not be used to perpetuate an illegal and ignoble war. I can support your evolution from unassuming, apolitical mother to informed, focused, dedicated, willing/unwilling symbol of the peace movement. I am with you in your desire that Americans shake off their apathy, ignorance, slumber, and misplaced faith in lazy platitudes. I’ve followed your exhausting vigil at Crawford, TX, just outside of Bush’s ranch, your “resignation” from the peace movement, and your rebirth as a critic of and challenger to Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, who deflected all calls for impeachment of Bush and Cheney.
You came by your knowledge at a bitter price. You kept speaking truth to power in spite of attacks by right-wing pundits who labeled you a lunatic (and who I suspect would never be brave enough themselves to enlist or serve, yet have howled loudest and longest for this war). You persisted in spite of barbs and infighting from would-be supporters, in spite of what it cost you to relive Casey’s death every time you talked about it to a journalist or at a demonstration. You persisted in believing in what America stands for and dared to speak out even when doing so brought a rain of other people’s self-loathing, toxic cynicism, and rancid blind trust on your own head.
I suspect if I were you, I might have wanted to keep my son’s memory alive too, in the same way. In spite of all that. Would I have had the courage to do so, if it were me–heaven forbid? All I can say is that I raised my voice against this war because I didn’t want anyone to have to endure what you have. To make your life a living memorial to a beloved dead son. To give his death meaning, because to believe he died a meaningless death is to take a step toward annihilating despair.
So I see all you’ve done, and I know there are places you’ve gone with your commitment, your pain, and your grief that terrify me, that hint to me maybe I’d be destroyed by the loss instead of transformed by it. But somehow, as one mother to another, with my young son not yet a man and your son forever twenty-four, I see what drives you forward when anyone else would’ve buckled. I feel your heart’s irrefutable logic in your actions. Because I tend to believe that as deep as that well of grief may be, what sustains you when you run dry and the bucket goes clattering down against the stone walls once again, what comes up from a deeper, more inexhaustible well is this: love.
Cindy Sheehan, you are not alone in your grief. Or your love for your child. Or your passionate insistence that this country must struggle harder to be what it tells the rest of the world it already is. We will bring this country back around, somehow. There is no choice if we call ourselves a free and peace-loving people.
Cross-posted at MOMocrats.