Nineteen

Remember when you were nineteen years old?  All of us were at a different place.  Some of us, maybe, were in the party phase, drinking with friends and staying up all night.  Some of us were already working hard in a blue-collar job, trying to make it on our own for the first time.  Some of us were studying for college exams and deciding what we wanted to be when we grew up.  I started early…at nineteen I was already engaged, working at a college degree that I would never get, looking for the next step in my life.  Wherever you were, chances are that at nineteen, you were learning huge lessons, full of hope and dreams and a few disillusions about what life is about.  You were young and confident and scared and excited about the many years you had ahead of you to make something happen.  To live your life.  To build your dreams.

Think about it.  Nineteen.  Where were you?  What were you doing?  Just think about it for a second.

A few days ago, we received word that the remains of Private Byron Fouty, an Army soldier from here in Michigan who had been missing in Iraq since March 12, 2007, were found.  Maybe you heard about it on the news.  But then again, maybe you didn’t.  It was barely mentioned on some local channels.  One little blurb about a hero found and they were on to news of the latest Hollywood marriage.  It seems so strange.  Here was this soldier…this kid…out doing his job one day, wearing his camouflage and boots, talking to his buddies, fighting for his country, carrying a gun and wearing body armour in the dirty streets of Iraq, and he was never heard from again.  Gone.  Lost.  Missing.  He was nineteen.  Nineteen!

We have gotten to know some of Byron’s family since this horrible event occurred fourteen months ago, and have prayed and worried and wondered alongside them.  My husband Sarge is involved with them in an official military capacity and has had the chance to learn about this young soldier, to see pictures and hear stories about his childhood and to meet all the friends and family that he left behind.  At some point soon, we will go to a memorial or a funeral and hear even more about Byron…who he was and what his family will miss about him and why they are so proud. 

And I will cry.  I will cry for the parents who will never see their son fulfill his dreams.  I will cry for the nephew who will never meet his uncle.  I will cry for the friends who will never hang out with him again, laughing and making memories.  I will cry for all the people who never got to tell Byron how much he meant to them.  But most of all, I will cry for that nineteen year old who was full of hope and dreams and big things to come.  I will cry for the nineteen year old who had the courage to fight in a war that most people don’t support, and who gave his life so that they can hold that opinion openly.  I will cry for a life cut short.  I will cry for the man that will never be.

He may have been only nineteen, but he did more with his life than many of us ever will.  Thank you, Byron.

                                                         

Lessons

It is my belief that the most significant events or periods in our lives continue to teach us lessons for as long as we live, if we let them.  As time goes by, and as we reflect and remember those past events, we see new things about ourselves, we glean new information about the way things were, and we notice more about why things happened the way they did.

When Sarge was gone for over a year, a world away in the Middle East doing his job, which just happened to be fighting in a war, I was here alone with three kids, a house, and a dog.  I learned to be strong.  I learned to be independent.  I learned that it was okay to ask for help sometimes.  I learned who my friends were.  I learned what was really important.

And then he came home…to children that were a year and a half older.  To a wife that was used to doing things her way.  To a country that forgot about the soldiers and their families.  To a life that didn’t include 60 pounds of body armor and a gun at the ready.  And again, I learned.  I learned to be patient.  I learned to let him in again.  I learned how to be a wife and a mom, and still keep my own identity…something I hadn’t been so good at before. 

And now, the deployment is well in the past.  Sarge has been home for two and a half years, safe and sound.  We are used to living together again.  I no longer jump every time I hear the doorbell ring, thinking it’s a stranger in uniform coming to tell me my husband has been wounded or worse.  I am back to complaining about his crazy out-of-town schedule and his snoring and his camouflage stuff all over my kitchen.  Life is, for the most part, back to normal.

Lately, though, my mind has been wandering back quite often to those days of when he was gone.  I’ve been remembering frequently the days of no phone calls and no sleep for worrying about him.  I’ve been looking back to the moments of panic as I’d hear about a bombing on the news, or waiting anxiously to see him on the webcam, or talking non-stop to one year old Goo about his daddy so he wouldn’t forget about him while he was gone.  It could be anything that brings me back there.  It could be a story I tell a friend about the time we thought Spike might have leukemia, and people were advising me not to tell Sarge, so he wouldn’t worry from a war zone.  That was something I went through alone.  It could be a song about a soldier and the letters he gets that mean so much.  It could be asking Sarge about something funny that happened only to remember that he wasn’t here then, and knew nothing about it.  It could be talk of Hurricane Katrina, something he heard about briefly but was amazed as I described the devastation to him over the phone.  It could be my kids hearing about a trip Sarge has to take for work, and asking if he’s going to Iraq.  It could be anything that reminds me.  Anything.

And as I think back, what amazes me most is our ability, as humans, to cope with what life throws our way.  I’m still learning from that time in my life.  Whenever I think I can’t do something, I remember deployment, and I know that I can get through anything.  If I see a friend in need and think I’m too busy or too tired or too far away to help, I remember the friends that helped me and I find the strength to do what I can.  When I see Army kids missing their parent, I remember to give them extra attention, because they’re missing some from the one who is away.  When I hear people arguing about the rightness or wrongness of this war, I remember that no matter the politics, it is the soldiers and their families who need our unwavering support.  I learn from it every day.  Every moment.

Sometimes I can hardly believe that it truly happened.  Some days I wonder if that time was all just a dream.  But then I look at the pictures of the day he came home.  Or I see the Muslim prayer beads that he brought home with him hanging on my wall.  I hear the doorbell ring and while it no longer scares me, I still remember.  That time in my life, a time I had hoped would never come, has proved so invaluable to me in so many ways.  It is a part of who I am and who my children are.  It is what makes Sarge the incredible man he is today.  It is in the life lessons I teach my children and the advice I give my friends.  It is in the way that I smile and the way that I cry.  When I see myself in the mirror, it is part of what is looking back at me.  It is a piece of the map that makes up my life.

I wonder sometimes what’s to come, and I worry about what’s in store for us.  But when I really think about it, I know that whatever it is…whatever hard times or happy times or scary times or amazing times we will go through, they will be the things I look back on someday.  They will be the things I remember as part of the map of my life.  Part of the journey that makes me who I am.  The things that taught me how to live as me.

I hope I never stop learning.