I'm on airplanes a lot, naturally. It's what I do. One naturally becomes blase about the commonplaces of one's environment, even--maybe especially--the ones that make outsiders nervous. It's not that I'm unsympathetic to another person's distress, but, working so closely around airplanes all the time, it's just tough for me to share another person's panic and unease about something that seems so innocuous.
At any rate, I'm always in the terminal or on an airplane next to someone who is having a little breakdown about flying. And I ignore or attempt to soothe according to my mood and the perceived degree of crisis.
But today was different. The guy next to me was in desert camo, with his name patch velcroed on next to "US ARMY." He travelled with a huge backpack. He asked me for help in the terminal with his computer, which was acting up, and then we ended up sitting together on the airplane. He had been home from Iraq for a couple weeks' R&R, he said, and was on his way back over. I patted him on the shoulder and said nobody deserved and needed their R&R more than he did.
He spent the short flight from Appleton to Milwaukee flipping thru a couple car magazines I gave him. And he sniffled a lot. Maybe it was just allergies or the airplane's dry air. But it all caused me to stop and think about how his commute differed from mine and from all the concerns I see in airports every day. I was headed to Kentucky for work, the kind of commute I've done a thousand times.
He was headed to war.
He said in the terminal while we fiddled with his laptop that his kids had been watching a movie on that computer last nite and it was working fine then. His kids playing on dad's computer. I kissed my wife goodbye this morning and said I'd see her in a couple days. This guy kissed his family goodbye this morning and left their comfort and love for a war zone. I can just hardly let my mind wander beyond this moment. I can only imagine what was going thru his mind.
My heart just breaks for these guys. I don't know anymore how to hope that I'm wrong in my assessment about Bush and Wolfowitz and Cheney and Rummy and all this war has become. I want so much to believe that these all lives and limbs and this honor and idealism and willingness to sacrifice have been placed on the altar of the highest ideals of statesmanship and not squandered on delusions of grandeur and self-importance. But increasingly it seems to take a kind of fingers-in-the-ears singing denial to hold onto my illusions, to not scream my derisive laughter at the administration's claims about what has become America's (certainly W's) defining act. I've heard the arguments and tried to connect the dots in hopes that they will lead, inevitably, to our presence over there in something like our current form. But my numbers never add up correctly. Like they did not for Germany or France or Italy or so many of our traditional allies.
In this case, I want to be wrong. For my brother, for this guy, for 160,000 others. I want to be wrong much more than I want to see W and the whole rotten cadre proven to be just what I think they are.