An interesting thing happened to me this week. A news producer acquaintance of mine asked me to share some ideas with him about what might make a great home front story. There are thousands of those to be found so that wasn’t the challenge, the challenge came when he suggested it tie in with the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. And no, that wasn’t the interesting part. The interesting part was that after three days of deliberation, I had no ideas whatsoever.
And I couldn’t figure out why, until I sat down to write this post. That’s when I realized the story had been right under my nose all along, and I hadn’t even realized it.
As I told my friend, I think the media, understandably, focuses on anniversaries, but I don’t think military spouses are as consumed with the date on the calendar. Of course there are anniversaries and dates that have deep meaning for us. We remember and reflect upon 9/11 each year, for obvious reasons. And I’m not diminishing the significance of the anniversary of Operation Iraqi Freedom, either. Not at all. But, aside from the obvious reflection and stroll down memory lane that may occur in your household, in this climate, is March 20 much different than any other date?
While the upcoming anniversary might give reason for many to pause a little longer and think about the war more than they would on most dates, we live the reality of their reflections each and every day. We have a spouse who is home, or one who is deployed or one who will deploy again. No matter what, our spouses are serving their nation in a time of war, and we’re supporting them.
It’s taken me three days of thinking and an hour of writing to work my way through why I was having such trouble with this request. A date marking a very important historical event can’t be used as a method of taking our pulse and determining how our lives are impacted by war. At best, it would be a brief snapshot from a very long feature film. If you took our pulse the day before, or the day after, would it be substantially different? Yes, each day brings different joys and challenges, ups and downs, peaks and valleys, but overall, in the big picture, aren’t things pretty much the same for us on March 1 and July 15 and November 23 and yes, even March 20? Our strength and our pride and how we manage our families and fill voids when our loved one is away, all while holding our heads high, is something to be proud of.
And that’s not to say that my friend isn’t. He most certainly is. He’s a kind man with a deep respect for the military. I understand his request. Appreciate it, even. I get it. I understand the desire to focus on military families on certain dates. In fact, I’d be the first to grumble if, on that date, the airways were filled with news of Britney Spears and there was no mention of the significance of March 20.
But here’s the thing – Each and every day I interact with military spouses, including all of you. Your strength and character is always on full display. It is evident, whether it’s meant to be or not. Usually, it’s not meant to be evident. It just is. I’ve met countless wives who were supporting their husbands after their bodies had been broken and burned and mangled. I’ve watched them spend months, even years, by their husband’s side. Feeding him, bathing him, clothing him. Although I’ll never truly know what they were going through inside, outwardly they were towers of strength. Because they had to be. More importantly, they wanted to be. They chose to be.
I vividly remember making my Sew Much Comfort rounds one afternoon. During those rounds, I bumped into the actor Dennis Farina in the hallway. He was visiting the troops, which was wonderful. One of the soldiers I was seeing had been in the bathroom when Farina popped in. A bathroom visit for someone with newly amputated legs can be tricky, and can last a while. I waited in the hallway until the nurse and he were out of the bathroom. When he was out, I told him Farina had popped in and asked him if he’d like me to wheel him down to meet the actor. He looked up at me from his wheelchair and said, "no." Then he paused, and said, "you can go meet him if you want too, though." I realized that he thought I might rather meet a celebrity than sit with him. I looked at him and said, "no thanks." And I thought to myself, "I’m right where I want to be. In the presence of a true hero." And I meant it.
Dennis Farina’s work, talent and big heart notwithstanding, is about memorizing lines and looking good on television. The work of the Specialist I was with is learning to live without legs. Learning to walk again with prosthetics, and so much more. His story, and stories like his, are compelling. His story is full of drama and pain and frustration and overcoming obstacles and rising to challenges and, yes, heroism. His wife faces her own set of challenges, too.
There are thousands of stories that would take years to tell, but which merit being told,and no matter how many spots about military families will air on each anniversary of OIF, none will ever give the viewer a true sense of how our spouses — and their spouses — live and serve. Every day, not just on March 20. And that, I believe, is the story.
Our friend, Tanya Biank just published a column about the upcoming anniversary. She closes with this:
How do you mark an anniversary not of the celebration variety? With reverence for the fallen and prayers for peace and stability. And one more — hope for a better day.
Couldn’t agree more. But then again, I believe that’s something most military families do each and every day.
So, I’ll leave you with a question. What would make a good homefront story on March 20? In other words, what would you have suggested to my friend?