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AT THE GATE
September 18, 2004
 
In the airport, a huge man in desert fatigues is taking leave of his family. His daughter -- nine or ten years old -- clings to him like a burr, her arms wrapped around his middle. His wife leans against him on the other side, and he is talking to his son and holding his hand. His mom and dad stand together, as close to him as they can get. Everyone is trying not to cry. They are succeeding, more or less, as I pass by, but I do not succeed.

Why do there have to be wars, century after century? Why must it be that people find someone sweet and get married, have sweet children and then must rip themselves away from them like this? The people who decide to go to war are never the ones who must fight them; those people remain comfortably at home with their families. Other people go in their place. Be safe, I say silently as I leave them behind on my way to the gate. Come home. He will do his best. But of course, that's not entirely up to him.

Another man decides to become a police officer in Iraq. A salary, and training in policing that comes from the best police force going -- a former NYPD Chief has designed the training for the new Iraqi force. Be safe, says his wife as he leaves the house. He goes to the appointed place -- the street is full of other men drawn there by the promise of work, and they wait in line for hours, quiet and anxious. They must find work, and find it soon. A van drives up and stops right next to them, and that is the last thing he sees. Never sees his little girl again, his son, his wife, his parents. He never even hears the explosion.

It is so easy to take a life. Its candle can go out in a breath. You don't even have to look your victim in the eye -- you can press a button, and dozens of lives come to their end, just like that.

Life is a one-time gift, here on the earth: we only have one, and it is precious. Fragile. So lovely, hard as it is, that we all want to stay as long as we can. Fear its end -- our own, or the end of someone else's. And so those in a war enter the theatre of death full of foreboding, a foreboding they must push down in their souls so they can bear to go forward. They go on automatic, reach into their training and let it run things, feel the flood of adrenaline and fear and channel every bit of it into the task of surviving.

I turn back, halfway down the concourse. The family is still standing there, just as it was. The little girl is still clinging to her father. They'll have to pry her off him, I imagine, when it's time for him to board.
Copyright © 2018 Barbara Crafton
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