We really are all in this together – like it or not | AspenTimes.com

We really are all in this together – like it or not

Tricia McKenzie

From earliest times, as the days grew shorter and the perilous nights longer, we huddled together in caves for safety and warmth, finding comfort in the rhythm of our communal grunts and drones as we rocked ourselves and one another. Around the fires of flickering light we told stories – some, the greatest stories ever told – of the return of light and new life in spring; peace on earth and goodwill toward men. This is one story.It was Nov. 18 and I was flying from Denver to Houston. The young man boarding in front of me appeared to be my daughter’s age but unlike the casual Aspen boarders they grew up with. I winced wondering who dressed him in that tacky-mall camouflage windbreaker with matching day pack. Then I overheard him tell the captain greeting us that he was being deployed to Iraq. Suddenly the channel changed and I felt ashamed as I looked around and noticed five other young men like him seated in the very back. Scenes from CNN and FOX flashed through my mind as I held back an impulse to grab his arm, look him in the eye and urge him not to go: “There has to be another way!”But it hadn’t worked when I rallied for our president to reconsider, and I felt even more helpless now in the shadow of the two broad frames shaking hands as the veteran captain of another war passed the standard to the next generation.Thanks to Homeland Security, we had plenty of time to get settled before takeoff when the captain asked over the PA system for any armed services personnel to raise their hand. Six tentative arms went up and a dead silence followed.This couldn’t be happening, I thought to myself as I reflexively calculated how many passengers might still be grieving the outcome of the election and how many might be from Bush country. Horrified that this moment would pass without its voice, as possibly the last reflection of a fallen soldier, I found myself hooting and clapping until the entire cabin was cheering our boys on.Then the captain announced something about the flight attendants trying to find seats upfront for the guys so they could be taken care of, but I couldn’t hear because one of the young women seated next to me was suddenly sobbing in her friend’s arms. I tried to console her by telling her that I understood because I had three daughters her age who were also concerned about terrorist attacks, the war and the possibility of them and their friends being drafted. They just looked at me blankly.Meanwhile, businessmen in first class were giving up their seats to the boys in the back.The friend then gently explained that they were flying to the funeral of the young woman’s husband who just died in Fallujah. Only he didn’t “just die.” The casket couldn’t be opened for her to see and touch him one last time because he had been blown to bits, literally. The war was no longer on my TV screen. I burst into tears. For him it was too late to turn back. Again, I told her that I understood – my partner had shot himself after returning from Vietnam. But do we ever really understand? Though clearly still in shock, the young woman needed to talk – and after spending the last two-and-a-half years in unrelenting activism – I needed to listen for two-and-a-half hours. They had just turned 21 and were the love of each other’s lives, married 14 months. She was not political and had long since stopped watching the news until his unit went into Fallujah when she couldn’t turn it off, even though he had told her not to believe everything she heard. He knew he was making a difference and the Iraqis he had met were grateful he was there. He died a hero in his world – and now in mine.When I asked about the support she was getting, she told me how touched she was by the young Marine assigned to her care who offered to be there for her because her husband couldn’t be. What she didn’t understand and found hardest to deal with were the anti-war and anti-Bush people.Recovering, I found the voice to sincerely apologize on behalf of myself and fellow peace activists for adding to her grief and assured her that despite our disagreement on policies, we honor her husband’s sacrifice and wholeheartedly support our troops. I confessed that I, too, had been surprised and dismayed by some of the fear and animosity I had encountered in the “peace” movement and election campaigns. Clearly our work is not done.She was grateful and said she wished that she could hug each and every one of the boys going off to war since she didn’t get to hug her husband before he died. So, as they moved up the aisle, I told them that this young woman needed a hug because she just lost her husband in Fallujah. They gallantly obliged and the whole cabin was in meltdown – we were back in the cave.I don’t know what is more real, the politics of polarization or the Polar Express we all imagine ourselves on. Like Tom Hanks, I suspect we each have all the voices in us. I didn’t want to let this moment, at the start of this new year, pass without giving it my voice. I can’t know what is in Rumsfeld’s heart; I can only know what is in mine: “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.”On behalf of all in our community who wish to do so, I extend a warm embrace to everyone who has ever served or is now serving in uniform and to their loved ones. To our human family across the globe: “Peace be with you and in the new year.”Tricia McKenzie is a longtime local resident. She raised her family here. Most recently, she hosted “Valley State of Mind,” an issues-oriented program that ran through the fall on GrassRoots TV.