Wednesday, November 15, 2006

trying to understand

I'm listening to a mother and son being interviewed on the CBC radio this morning. The son is with a unit of reserves and has volunteered to be deployed to Afghanistan.

As a mother myself, listening, I seem to be hearing a bit of my own son. While I easily resonate with the mother's thoughts, I'm stretching to try to put myself within this young man's reasoning, trying to see it through his eyes. I'm not succeeding.

In a desire to do something, a desire to accept the challenges of the very hard job of a Canadian soldier in Afghanistan, what is unsaid, I think, is that he also feels compelled to make this decision as a sort of rite of passage. With the weight of the challenge of this rite of passage perhaps overriding everything else, he has made the decision to sweep aside any questions of "why" Canadian soldiers are there at all.

When, at one point my own son talked of joining the armed forces, all I could think was: mutilation, horrors and death. He talked about cool weapons. One of my brothers, who was in the navy, was excited. I couldn't understand this. Perhaps of all my brothers, this one is the most tender-hearted and peace-loving. But there's the other side of him-- he's a gamer. And he's proud of his time in the navy.

This is often what is so charming and frightening about men in general, this single-minded determination to take action -- almost any action. And I find it bewildering. While on some level perhaps, I understand it (barely), I keep thinking there must be some other physically and mentally challenging way in our culture to encourage young men to undergo that rite of passage, without sending them off to war.

There was a time when I was young when I loved war-games in the woods and I liked to believe that in the rough and tumble with my brothers, I could give as good as I got. I don't think the males on the innate level have the corner on skills of hunting and combat. Mind you, most of the girls I knew back then, were already well on their way be being socialized to be pretty dolls, to follow fashion and develop crushes on Elvis, or the Mod Squad, and listen to 1050 Chum. I was already separating out in my mind with whom I played social games, and with whom I could get dirty and breathless, running, hiding, tumbling about in the woods.

My best friend was the exact opposite. I admired her because she had long brunette hair, always perfectly rolled into ringlets or pulled up into elaborate knots and braids. She always seemed to have pretty dresses that looked exactly like the illustrations out of the Arthur Maxwell Bedtime Stories I grew up on. I wanted to be her best friend so much that I could hardly believe we hit it off when we finally giggled through a lunch together one day at school. We couldn't have been more different.

Her mother didn't let her sit on the grass. There was a long list of things she wasn't allowed to do like that. But her mother always welcomed me at her house. I even enjoyed it when she called me "straggle head". She was itching to get her hands on my stick-straight, sunburnt hair.

For years, we were best friends.

She rebelled against all the "prettiness" when she got to highschool. But while she developed all sorts of luscious curves and flirty ways, I felt like my body would never blossom out into anything like feminine curves and always felt blunt and awkward in conversation. Suddenly everything had double meanings. We talked about boys all the time.

She always hated any physical activity. I never became a great athlete or anything, but never lost my love of running, pushing myself, that sense of a some mastery of a skill-set, like cycling or skating.

I can get obsessed with computer games, but long ago fell behind my son, or his uncles and cousins, in their ability to play the usual "war" games they love. The desire is pretty much gone, on my part. In some dim way, I can understand why it is so engrossing.

I can't criticize what I can't totally understand. I keep worrying that the adrenal rush, the heightened senses focused in such a narrow way, may blur the stuff on the periphery of their attention: the reality of human suffering, the de-humanizing of themselves and 'the enemy', the destruction left in the wake of war, the unrelenting inhumanity of the situation. Is it justified? Is it a just war? Will life be better after?

Because I can't see any sense in the big picture, it would tear me apart to send my boy off to this war. (I realize fully that they are not calling it a war, that they are not there "because of Bush" but because the UN asked, bla bla bla) I know he thinks he would love it. I am often mystified by how often he's ready to fight to protect his sisters, or his friends, or anybody he loves, or on behalf of the little guy! I'm crossing my fingers his desire to join up is not rekindled by the mistaken notion that Canadian soldiers are "helping" anybody over there!

I'm still asking WHY? GOD IN HEAVEN, WHY! But like the mother in the interview, if, god forbid, my son should decide to go, I'd support his decision to do so and let him go.


Blogger Karen said...

What an interesting post. I haven't listened to the CBC in a while, but it used to be my constant morning companion. (I think the strike drove me away and I never really got back into it.) You've said a lot worth thinking about here.

10:29 a.m.  

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