Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Empty Shoes

Last week I was driving home along one of the country roads I can take into the office. It's a beautiful road, now complete with high edges of corn right up to the gravel. At one point there's a little one lane bridge and several horses that gather around galvanized tubs of water. The sun in the evening intensifies along this stretch and life feels really full and complete with all the love I need. More often than not lately I have been listening to the iPod or music, but last week I was feeling a bit disconnected from the world and put on the news. And the sun got more intense. And the world got hotter.

This is what I want you to think about right now: your little brother. (Or your son. Maybe your nephew. ) Can you see him when he was eighteen or twenty? I can see both of my brothers. One emailed me today to talk about beekeeping. The other is full of nerves about taking his MCAT. They're young and beautiful. My beekeeping brother gets so nervous sometimes I can see his hands shake, and it breaks my heart when I see that. I hate that he gets so worked up about things. He is a walking box of trivia, and he knows the most obscure facts. Even though sometimes he acts hard, he's really a huge softie who loves when his dog sits on a raft in the pool. He rescues delicate looking bugs by bringing them into the Florida room and putting them into the fern. He checks on them to make sure they are doing okay.

My other brother wakes up early every morning to ride his bike down trails, working up a sweat before he sits down in front of textbooks and problems. He graduated with a dual degree months ago. He pushes himself really hard, and is one of the most fair people I know. We talk a lot about politics, and sometimes we disagree, but he listens intently to me. And sometimes he even changes his mind. And occasionally he even changes my mind. We both cried together after the London bombings since he lived there too, worked for an MP, and attended the LSE. I gave him a book that detailed cheap London eats, and it was his Bible while living there. He went to a Persian restaurant with some regularity and would talk to men who sat next him in the hot restaurant, sharing his bottle of wine.

I'm older than both of them, by seven and ten years. I can remember how my youngest brother called me "mom" for awhile in his life. Sometimes he slips and still does the same. When my other brother was about three, he decided he didn't want to eat anything else other than Cheerios, and after a few weeks of this, my parents put their respective feet down about that: If he didn't eat what was on the table, nothing then. At night, after he was put to bed, I would sneak him up bowls of cereal, and tell him stories as we both ate milky bowls of Cheerios under the covers.

One of my brothers was a tow-head when he was kid. One of my brothers chased sparrows at the swim club all summer long hoping to catch one. When I would babysit them at night, both of them liked for me to sing songs to them as they drifted away in their bunk beds. Their most requested tune, "Tis a gift to be simple, tis a gift to be free...."

I can see the freckles that both of them had/have on their noses. They look like my freckles. I remember that one brother liked to lie in the grass in the backyard and have me try to count the freckles on his cheeks and nose.

Can you see your brother? Son? Nephew? What color is his hair? How does he laugh when you tell a stupid joke? How does he laugh when you say something really funny? Do you remember seeing him cry ever? Think about the times you watched the stars with this boy. Think about how he looked at his high school graduation; was it full of promise and youth, his young man's hair curling out from underneath the mortarboard?

Last week, my brothers came to me on that country road as I drove along listening to families in Ohio talk about their boys.

I thought about my brother and his shaking hands when he gets nervous.

I thought about my other brother, sweating in the morning riding down shady bike paths.

I pulled over into the edges of a cornfield and cried to think about the deep hole that losing either of them would create. I thought about the empty shoes I had seen the week before that and how the site of all those shoes and names nearly brought me to my knees.

And there's nothing anyone could do to convince that losing either of my brothers was worth it.

And when you think of your boy, what could convince you it was worth it to not hear his voice on the phone at night? His hand close into yours? His "I love you" on your birthday?

Really. What?


Blogger ~cj~ said...

I loved your post, it was very well thought out and poured such compassion. My husband spent years in the Marines, and I have other brother in law's who are currently serving during this time. I totally agree with you - I couldn't say that the outcome of this war - was/is worth the loss of anyone's son/daughter or loved one. When Erick's youngest brother joined in January we all thought "What the hell are you thinking?!" And that was coming from people who have served. My husband reminds me and himself too as he and I share this same beliefs in the current war arena. He says that those who join must believe their service is "worth" the scarafice even if it means their life - otherwise they should not have joined. I can't imagine the sacrafice the soldiers, families and loved ones make and pray that we are not asked to make the same.

8:13 PM  
Blogger AltMama said...

Hey there, after a long silence. Just wanted to say thanks for a lovely and compelling (and, I would say--dead on the money) post.

It's actually because I feel the same way--and because I'm from a really small town where a lot of little brothers have been lost--that I've been thinking these days that (I know this is an awful thing to say) that we should seriously reconsider the draft. The burden of sacrificing brothers and sons (and daughters) just shouldn't fall so heavily on the extremely rural and the extremely poor...those who have no choice but to risk and sacrifice.

and btw, i sort of know the woman who organizing the Eyes Wide Open exhibit! If anyone else is out there and has seen it, it would be great to take a second to send them an email letting them know you appreciated it. It's been a hard project, and they always get a lot of really reactionary responses. I know it means a lot to them when they hear positive feedback

1:54 PM  
Blogger Mrs. K said...

Wow! Great link...and post. You always find a way to make me tear up :)

6:52 PM  
Blogger amyesq said...

That's a tough one, K. I very much believe in serving my country and know that many, if not most, of the men and women who do serve believe fully in their cause. But it is easy for me to say that, since both my beloved, adored little brothers are safe at home. Geez, now I want to call them and tell 'em how much I love 'em!

10:22 PM  
Blogger Lil Bouncer said...

Hey girl! Update ! How's everything going? Any news yet?

Allisson & Mindy
Lesbians TTC.

5:32 PM  
Blogger Katie (WannaBeMom) said...

You guys, great comments.

I was thinking about this all weekend. I do think there's merit to the concept of "service" and in particular to the country. We have a lot of freedoms and rights, and with that, I firmly believe, there is a responsibility attached to those rights and freedoms.

I also harbor beliefs similar to AltMama: there's a widely disparate military now, and I don't think it's right that the rural and poor take up the lion's share of the military.

At the same time, I'd pull any string I could to keep my brothers out of the military right now if there was draft.

The problem is that if you want to serve the country in some way, there has to be more options.

It just so happens that I don't believe in the current cause in any way, shape, or form, and I firmly believe we are engaging in very illegal and illicit activity in the name of democracy and freedom, two concepts I believe in to my core, and by doing what we are doing, we are cheapening those noble terms.

Arg. There.

Again, great comments my friends-- you make me think!

9:19 AM  
Blogger Jen said...

Wow - beautiful, moving, powerful writing. I'd say more but I am still crying from it...

10:25 AM  

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