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A Crack Runs Through It

I'm sad now. I'm sad, but it's more complex than that.

I'm still at my school, and I just ran into a favorite student from years past, one who enlisted early in the National Guard. She's just completed basic training, and she came back to say hello, wearing her uniform.

I saw her, and my heart did a funny little hiccup thing, and I gave her a big hug.

Had I realized before how small she is, how delicate? Standing there in uniform, a big smile on her face, so proud of her passage to adulthood.

And I'm proud, too, dammit, because I know this child, and I know that she's done this difficult and--especially now--dangerous thing for the best and most idealistic reasons in the world. She is a young person of honor, and courage, and integrity, and that is exactly why she's in the military.

Of course I'm afraid for her. I'm afraid for her in all the obvious ways, and in the less obvious ways, too, that come from having a bone-deep belief that war can never be what's right. War, I know now (but didn't at seventeen) can never do other than mar even the most honorable spirits who take part in it.

But I can't give my peace testimony to someone else, transplanting it like a tomato plant, potting it directly into a student's heart. It doesn't work that way.

My student is shining with pride and courage and adulthood claimed. And I'm proud, too, because she is brave, and she is honorable, and her adulthood is a wonderful and glorious thing.

But I'm afraid, and in ways that don't translate to her. Maybe they never will; maybe she'll never have that moment I've heard others I love speak of, of firing a gun with the intention of ending another human life.

Maybe the military will not break something in my student, my child. Maybe.

I feel today like a parent whose child has brought them a wonderful gift, made by their own hands, and who has seen that gift dropped and marred before it could even be given. A crack runs through it now, and I have no way of knowing how wide it truly is.

And I'm thinking: Not my child, O God... Not my child! Let her return safe; let her be in all ways whole.


Anonymous said…
This seems so awful Cat. My heart goes out to you

I was wondering: were you thinking of Leonard Cohen's song about the Liberty Bell (so-called) when you chose your title?

"Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.

— "Anthem" (1992)

Perhaps there is some comfort in knowing that many of the first Friends served in Cromwell's New Model Army, and passed through that experience to wisdom. "That's how the light gets in —"

My wife has a much-loved young nephew in the military, a medic who's served several years now in Iraq. So as you can imagine, I felt with you when I read this posting.
David, thanks for the support. Marshall, thank you! I could not call the Cohen quote to mind; I had just the niggling sense of it, just out of reach, but I'm sure that it was part of where that phrase came from so insistently.

And, yes. You are right--there's comfort in the thought of the early Friends who served under Cromwell. James Naylor's story has always spoken to me very strongly, and I can think of no more loving and powerful statement of the peace testimony than his.

I'm aware, too, that there's a kind of hubris in worrying over the state of anyone else's heart or soul. Taking someone else's moral inventory--in advance, yet! There's a form of arrogance.

But I can't help it. This kind of worry seems to be built in to this kind of love, right along with the pride I feel in this girl's integrity, even as I feel so certain her choice is a mistaken one.
Anonymous said…
Cat, this really hits home, even for someone who's watched the kids that used to play with her own kids grow up and do the same. Pride and sadness in one big ball, and the worry. I hope that worry in you meets with quiet, and that your girl comes back safe. Not everything that's dropped is cracked.
anj said…
Cat - Your words bring tears to my eyes. What a caring teacher you must be, even knowing the price of caring is to grieve about the cracks. I wish I could always hold the truth Marshall wrote about, it too often eludes me.
Anonymous said…
Someone I loved very much joined the military out of high school. It wasn't out of pride or courage or honor; he just didn't know what to do with his life. He was sent far, far away, and I was afraid for him all the time. And this was long before the war. But he came home and maybe he has a few scars, but he's so much stronger, so much wiser, and he's made a wonderful life for himself.

Indeed, let her return safe, whole, and to something better.
Steve Hayes said…
Thanks for putting it so well.

Here in South Africa we saw so many young people (white males) conscripted to be soldiers for apartheid, and they were so young, and unable to resist the pressures that warped their minds.

And when you wrote of your student, i thought of the pictures we saw from Abu Ghraib, and hope she can avoid that corruption.
I'm afraid for her, too, Cat. May she fare well and return wiser but unscathed.

Macha, thank you. As another mom, your words mean even more to me. (Obviously, I'm not this girl's mom literally... but that mom instinct turns out to be hard to shake! I know you know what I mean.)
sta┼Ťa said…
Oh, Cat. Sympathy, and empathy... I recently wrote about finding out that one of my favorite young cousins, who just graduated from high school, joined the Marines and ships out in September. I know too much about what he goes to...


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