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A prayer for the living

As published in the Tampa Tribune May 26, 2008.

It’s Memorial Day, and I don’t have anyone to remember. No one close to me has died in the service of our country.

I don’t even personally know anyone who is currently being paid to protect, fight, and possibly die for his or her country.

But I’ve known plenty of courageous civilians. Men, mostly, whose everyday swagger hints at the bravery that must expand to heroic levels in a place like Iraq. A soldier’s bravery that must take them through dark nights of loneliness, and long days of fear so palpable their sweat must smell of it.

And if I can’t speak for women’s courage as easily as I can of men’s, it’s only because men have so often defended me – not in any death-defying ways, but in those every day ways that men do.

Men have protected me. They’ve walked between me and the street. They’ve pulled out my chair in restaurants. They’ve captured spiders and put them outside because I couldn’t bear them to see them squished. They’ve quietly told the loud-mouthed Fenway fans to “Watch it, there’s a lady present.” Yes, men still do these things.

They take the aisle seat, letting you have the window. They let you shower first to get all the hot water. They tell you to “stay in here” while they go out to the living room to check out the noise only you heard.

They even put themselves in harm’s way for you:

My oldest brother, maybe 12 at the time, facing down a bunch of neighborhood bullies who had been throwing snowballs at me on my way home from school.

My first boyfriend finding me crying in my apartment, and going back out to confront a bunch of college boys who had yelled obscenities at me when I rode my bike past their frat house. A regular guy in his work uniform, walking up to that 20-odd group of big boys from the city, telling them in no uncertain terms to leave me alone.

Years later, another man; older. Waiting for me on one of the most dangerous streets in Boston, while I was inside a brick building tutoring young street toughs toward their GEDs.

I came out after the class was over and there he was — an out-of-his-element white guy in Roxbury, leaning up against his car, smoking a cigarette as casually as if he was waiting for me outside my apartment on Beacon Hill. Opening the car door and putting me inside, ignoring the low taunts coming through the night air.

He must have been waiting for nearly two hours in the February cold that night. Just to make sure I made it home okay.

I don’t have a clue about what it would feel like to lose safety and freedom in my life because I’ve had so many American men making sure that I never had to forfeit either.

It’s an exquisite luxury of being female. An exquisite luxury of being American.

These are the same kinds of men, and women, too, I imagine we have in Iraq.

They’re the soldiers sending letters home, saying “I’m fine, don’t worry.” Saying, “Thanks for the cookies, Mom. Thanks for the socks. I’ll be home in August.”

They’re the soldiers holding their buddy’s head together, waiting for the medic, ignoring the blood spilling through their fingers, murmuring, “Hang on. You’re okay. Just hang on.”

This weekend, I’m thinking of them. Those men and women still soldiering on in the face of fear. Those soldiers still alive.

I’m hoping they never have to be remembered on any Memorial Day.

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Posted on May 26th, 2008Comments RSS Feed
2 Responses to A prayer for the living
  1. This was a Great column, MC!!!
    Especially the last sentence.
    I served 13 yrs in the Air Force as an orthopedic surgeon.
    I have the utmost respect for the men and women in the armed forces.
    Although some would disagree, I think serving your country is extremely honorable.In some form, I would love to see all young adults serve some short period of time .
    Im sure that will never happen.
    But it truly is a sad statement to make when you don’t know anyone serving actively in the Armed Forces.
    I know all of our attention is now focused on helping Haiti
    but I hope there is a resurgence of support for our troops abroad as soon as this crisis subsides

    Reply
  2. Thanks for reading some of my back columns, Scott. This one, as you can imagine, drew a lot of public response when it was printed.

    Reply

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