Thursday, August 26, 2021

It Still Matters



Fourteen years ago I was anxiously counting down the last two weeks of my husband’s deployment to Afghanistan.

Seven weeks earlier, we’d been on vacation in the UK when he received the news no commander ever wants. I saw him cry, for the first and only time, as he was told one of his officers had been killed.

He was utterly devastated. 

A mournful shadow was cast over the rest of our time together. 

Physically he was with us, but emotionally, mentally he was thousands of miles away, back in that desert land.

At the end of the summer, he came home. We were the lucky ones, for a time anyway.

I stopped holding my breath in anticipation, stopped jumping each time the doorbell rang. 

Afghanistan changed Dan, as it did everyone who went there. 

He rarely spoke to me of his time there, sheltering me from what he’d seen; what had almost been, but for the grace of God. 

And he never spoke of the grief he felt over the many losses the battle group suffered during his deployment. The irony of that is not lost on me, as I now specialize in writing and speaking about grief. 

I’ve watched the events unfolding in Afghanistan this week with a lump in my throat. 

My heart aches for the Afghan people. And for all the veterans, soldiers, and families whose lives were touched by the war.

I’ve struggled to find words, and when the words came, wondered if I should share them. 

After all, I’m not an Afghanistan widow, I’m an accidental military widow. The irony of Dan surviving Afghanistan only to be killed at home in a training accident seven years later is also not lost on me. 

And I’m not a soldier. I was merely a spectator to Dan’s time there, though I know he’d argue that point and say I was so much more than that. 

I’m not a soldier, but Afghanistan touched my life and changed it. As it did my children’s and countless other families in Canada and around the world.

I can’t help but wonder what Dan would say if he was here to witness the tragedy that is occurring in Afghanistan today.  

I think some small part of me is glad he’s not here to witness the tragic events unfolding, words I never thought I’d say.

But at least he’s spared the pain so many of his comrades are feeling right now.

A slight silver lining that slides like quicksilver through my fingers as I clasp my hands together in despair.

Despair. I’m sure he would be feeling that too. And so many other emotions.

Anger.

Disappointment.

Frustration. 

Guilt.

Helplessness.

Sadness.

Grief. So much grief.

And pride. Yes, pride.

He was always so incredibly proud of the men and women he had the honour of leading.

He gave the best of himself to Afghanistan and her people, to the men and women he commanded. 

He believed they— you— made him the officer he was. 

Current events would never, could never change that.

I know if he were still here, he’d have spent the last several days reaching out to his soldiers. He’d offer them an ear to listen, a shoulder to lean on. There’d be coffee and beer. Because that’s who he was.

They’d talk in a language I can never understand. Because I don’t wear a uniform and it wasn’t my war.

I can never know what Dan would say if he were here. 

But when others ask what the point of it all was. Did it matter? Was their sacrifice— their blood, sweat, tears— all in vain? Did they leave pieces of themselves back there in that arid land for nothing? 

I can hear his voice so clearly in my head.

“You’re damn straight it matters.

For 20 years, Afghans had a better life. Because of us.

For two decades, girls got to attend school. Women could vote and hold jobs in government. Because of us.

Their lives weren’t perfect, but they were better. Because of us.

And that matters. It doesn’t stop mattering now.”

I can hear him just as surely as if he were standing here before me.

I hold onto these words as I watch thousands of Afghans flood onto the tarmac in desperation, as they chase the plane down the runway, helplessly trying to hang on with whatever hope they have left. 

I hold onto these words as politicians and pundits question and criticize the legitimacy of the war and the wisdom of the pullout.

“It still matters.”

His voice, sure and calm, reassures me. 

They are the words I need to hear; the ones I choose to believe.

I so wish he were here to say it himself. But he’s not.

So I’ll say it for him. 

It still matters.

And you, you matter so much. 

To Dan, to me. 

To the thousands of faces with names you will never know, whose world, however briefly, was made better because of you.


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