E-M-P-A-T-H-Y….it’s a feeling you should try

When my son told me he had enlisted in the Army after he graduated, I reacted like any typical mom would. It was, in fact, textbook predictable. “But what if you get deployed? You have a family.” We were in the midst of the Iraq war and we were balls-deep in the Afghanistan conflict. I was afraid for my child, like any mother would be. His reply was grave, but cavalier: “If I go, I go. I’ll fight, and I’ll be okay. It’s a part of the job.”

I had two more, very similar conversations after that; one with my youngest son when he enlisted in the Navy, and one with my daughter, when her husband signed on the dotted line with the Army. The responses I received were almost the same as my oldest son’s; the bottom line for all three was their desire to answer a higher calling and to make a better life for themselves and their young families. If that meant having to deploy to another country to help uphold freedom, so be it; they signed up willingly for that.

We were fortunate; my oldest survived two deployments, one to Iraq and the other to Afghanistan; my Navy son ended up serving onboard a nuclear submarine, which is a different kind of fear for a mom to feel, before changing direction and serving in Japan; and my son-in-law was stationed in South Korea and Germany during volatile times. My daughter and grandchildren were with him at both duty stations, so there was that kind of quadrupled worry for me.

I wrote, yesterday, about how I couldn’t imagine being separated from my children. I didn’t include these instances because, in my opinion, they don’t count. No, I didn’t choose the career paths my kids decided upon; I didn’t “sign up” to be the mother of sons who might just end up in harm’s way, on the receiving end of a bullet or an IED or a suicide vest’s contents. That’s not the point I want to make. The point is: they did. Three intelligent, young men watched the news, read the stories, and were well-informed before they volunteered to fight for their country. They were educated about the realities; they in turn educated their wives. It took teamwork between husbands and wives to make the best of it; military wives will tell you that it’s all a package deal. My daughter and daughters-in-law certainly related this to me during the 10 years, combined, that “we” were in this thing.

Now, with the current crisis of humanity and conscience going on at our country’s Southern border, I am seeing a lot of different points-of-view, and not all of it is just Republicans vs. Democrats rhetoric. With the pervasive divisiveness we are experiencing in this country, that’s certainly a given. Racism, bigotry, and prejudice has always been present in America, an irony I still can’t get over given our country’s reputation for inclusiveness, and the words

With silent lips. Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

that welcome immigrants at The Statue of Liberty.

Everyone has an opinion about this, be it on the side of our better angels or on the side of demons intent on destroying the family unit.

But then there’s this:

And this:

and I find myself breathless with dumbfounded wonder at the absolute shamelessness of some people. How do you equate what military families live with what refugees have endured in their countries? Refugees don’t ask for the violence they live with on a daily basis. They were born into it. They live in poverty, their basic needs a daily struggle, their power usurped by corrupt governments (there’s a term we need to revisit) and thugs with guns. They hear about a sibling, or a cousin, who successfully made it to America and who now has a safe place to sleep, food, and a job. That’s what they hear, and they look at their children and despair. Do they stay or do they go? Stay in the desolate familiarity where one must comply with the cartels or die, or brave the dangerous terrain and ask a country for asylum that is not guaranteed to be granted? Certainly, both choices are fraught with worry and, in fact, tremendous courage. Here, in America, when drug dealers move into our neighborhoods, we fight back and drive them out, however we can. We don’t stand for it. But imagine, for a moment, if those drug dealers had the protection of an army of thugs and in most cases, their own government. Imagine how we would feel if we knew that we were as unsafe with the police as we were in the den of the drug dealer?

That’s what families seeking asylum live with in their own countries. That’s why they come to us, asking us to help, choosing to trust in us. They don’t have good choices. There are no good alternatives. And so they come, and now, we are betraying the very foundations on which this country was built. No, maybe military families don’t like their lot in life, but with the stroke of a pen and a signature recorded, someone did make that choice willingly. They weren’t “born into it” and haven’t “lived it” their whole lives. When a young man or woman makes the choice to serve their country, they sign their families up for it. Maybe, in retrospect, that isn’t fair, but life isn’t always about fairness. No, the children they chose to bring into the world didn’t get to weigh in on whether or not Daddy/Mommy has to go to war, but do any of us get to choose who raises us? Those immigrant children didn’t get to choose, either. Here’s where it gets ironic, though:

The parents chose to bring them into the world.

This is what military families and refugees have in common. Neither wants their children to know a moment of sadness or despair.

Can we simply stop trying to one-up each other? Can we simply acknowledge that this is a terrible, terrible thing without feeling the need to equate two very different circumstances with each other? You’re afraid because your parent/sibling/spouse/child is serving in a dangerous country, putting their life on the line for a grateful nation. I get it; I’ve experienced it. It’s STILL not the same. It just isn’t. You aren’t being detained in a cage or a tent, with mylar blankets. Your kids aren’t miles (even states) away from you, being housed in similar circumstances. You can tuck them in at night, knowing they are safe, and clothed, and fed, and warm. You can hold them when they cry for you. Now, your military member in harm’s way can’t, but again, I will remind you, in the words of the President of the United States: he/she knew what he signed up for.

It’s not the same. Quit trying to make it be.


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