Thursday, October 7, 2010

Home of the Brave

Did you know that today marked the ninth anniversary of the start of the war in Afghanistan? I'm a bit ashamed to admit that I don't remember the beginning of the war. I was a senior in high school, less then a month after 9/11, but I haven't the faintest recollection of learning that a war had begun. I do, though, remember fear: fear that a draft would be instated, fear that my friends, just months from graduation, would be the first to be pulled into service.

The draft never happened, but some of them still made the voluntarily decision to serve. A program booklet at our commencement listed graduates' post-high school plans; the list of those headed into military service wasn't long, but it was substantial. In a small Ohio town, it was the best opportunity some of them had to make lives for themselves. And others? others had spent their whole lives dreaming of it.

Before I left D.C. last month, I made a visit to Arlington National Cemetery, where some of our country's most dedicated servicemembers are buried. I'd been meaning to go for awhile, in part because I think every American who has the chance to do it ought to, out of respect. And in part because I once knew someone who's now buried there.

We weren't friends, not really. I couldn't claim to have been his friend - the biggest contribution he made to my life was teaching me the meaning of a verrrry unsavory slang term - but I remember him well, a loud, redheaded football player with big ideas & kind words. When Student Council elections came up, he ran for president; if he didn't win, he said, he'd be graduating early & shipping out for the Marines. And when he didn't win, enlist & ship out he did. He died four years ago this month, at age 24, of injuries sustained while defusing a roadside bomb. He was serving his third tour of Iraq.

As one of the few people from my high school living in close enough proximity to visit, I promised myself I'd make it to Arlington to pay my respects, not just for me but, I liked to think, partially on behalf of a city devastated by the death of a hometown hero. I was, in a word, overwhelmed. Rows & rows of headstones, as far as the eye can see, in all directions. Total verbal silence from visitors, even the smallest of children. Endless names of real people, of men & women who died for what they believed in.

The headstones at Arlington are numbered from the back, & when you head into the visitors' center, you can print off a sheet of paper with a number & a map telling you exactly how to get to the headstone you're looking for. I came upon his grave from the back, just rows from where a few members of the military were paying their respects to a recently buried comrade. I was afraid to be near them, afraid I didn't deserve to be there while they were. After all, what have I given our country? So I made eye contact with them, somewhat embarrasedly, & nodded in their direction, hoping it would convey the respect & deference I felt. They nodded back; I sat in the grass at my old classmate's grave to cry, to take it all in, to realize with shock that he was two years younger when he died than I am now. And then I left a rock atop his headstone, because that's what Jews do, & I walked back to the Metro in silence, & carried on with my everyday life - went to Starbucks, hung out with friends, applied for jobs. Kept being me.

I don't agree with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Still, I balk at accusations that those who oppose the wars are by default disrespectful of those who serve in them. From the bottom of my heart, I respect our members of the military - the work they do, the reasons they do it, the sacrifices they make. It's a funny thing to say, I guess, a line most people reserve for Jesus, but to me, it makes more sense in a place like Arlington: They died so that we may live.

[In other words: Have you thanked a servicemember lately?]


I just wonder how many people had to attempt to return their damaged purchases before Goodwill decided to bite the bullet & hang this sign on their door.

Daydream Believer: My Mental Vacation

Cheerios® is giving you the chance to win a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, your ultimate family vacation. As part of a paid promotion for their “Do What You Love” Sweepstakes, Cheerios® is sponsoring my post today about what my ultimate family vacation would be. Read mine, Enter the Sweepstakes for a chance to actually win your own fantasy family trip or one of a bunch of other great prizes.

I go on vacation, like, never. And while being unemployed (screw that "[f]unemployed" business, this shiz is not fun) may appear to be vacationesque, the fear of not being able to pay my bills keeps me from really being able to sit back & enjoy the view. Because, you know, vacations aren't supposed to be brokedown & stressful.

So I don't think about vacations much. Except when I do, which is actually fairly often, because I want to know: What does "vacation" mean, anyway? What are the criteria for a vacation?
  • Does a staycation count? What if you end up doing household chores like cleaning the air ducts & reorganizing the closets? That doesn't seem like a vacation to me. Do you have to go somewhere, do something?
  • What if there's no beach, no ski resort, no cruise, no hotel? What if it's just you & a friend hopping on the train to NYC for a weekend? How about camping? Is that a vacation? 
  • How long do you have to be away for it to count as a vacation? And that sentence assumes that you need to be away in the first place. Please refer back to my "staycation" question.
And so on & so on, ad infinitum. Yes, I think about these things.

I tend to think vacations are supposed to include beaches, but I don't even like the beach. I know, I know. "What kind of freak doesn't like the beach?" I only went on one college trip with friends, one wild & rowdy Spring Break that wasn't wild or rowdy at all. Just me & two friends wandering the boardwalk in Virginia Beach, visiting with a few sailors & writing silly things in the sand, all while wearing jeans & hoodies because it was too damn cold to be near the water. Fine by me; I don't like the water at all. I was never going to be a Cancun girl.

And I'm not that big on sightseeing-style traveling, either. I've never been off the continent, save a high school cruise to the Bahamas, & while it'd be nice to see the world, I'm not exactly clamoring for passport stamps. For me, traveling has never been about the places; rather, it's about the people in the places. I'd always rather visit an old friend than a new place, but traveling is expensive, kids, so unless I can buy a $20 Megabus ticket, I'm probably not gonna make it.

What, then, does my ideal vacation look like? Am I even allowed to think about vacations while I'm unemployed, living on my mom's dime & desperately trying not to fritter away my meager savings? I feel guilty. But vacation is a state of mind, right? Maybe I deserve that daydream now more than ever. Ain't no shame in a (free) daydream.

So where would I rather be, the girl who doesn't do beaches & can't ski & hates Vegas? My ideal vacation is the same place it's always been: the cabin in the Pennsylvania woods where we go every year with family friends, where we've been going since I was a baby. The one place in the world where this suburban-cum-city girl gets down with nature & sleeps in a cabin too often graced by the presence of bugs & woodland creatures. Where I swim in a lake, for crying out loud. Where there are no bikinis (OK, fine, there are never any bikinis in my life, period) & no gambling & no cruise ships & no fancy hotels. Just me & my mom & the family friends who've simply become family.

We went out there this summer, when I sold an MGMT ticket in favor of making the six-hour drive so that I could instead roast marshmallows & fall asleep around a bonfire & shoot three clay pigeons (!) & finish a book & gorge myself on my uncle's brunch & even try ribs for the first time. It's my happy place, the place I think of when everything else is going to shit. It's never fancy & never for longer than a long weekend, but when August rolls around, rarely do I feel the need to vacation anyplace new. When you love one place so much, why waste your precious vacation days elsewhere?

And now, back to my regularly scheduled lack of daydreaming. Haven't you heard? I've got a job to find, y'all.

Don't forget to enter the “Do What You Love” Sweepstakes, for a chance to win your own ultimate family vacation. I was selected for this sponsorship by the Clever Girls Collective, which endorses Blog With Integrity, as I do. [Photo from]
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