During the last 3 weeks of school I substituted for a teacher who was recovering from a heart attack. He (and so I) taught a class called "War in the Modern World." Of all his classes, it was my favorite. Not because I love war, but because I despise it. In most cases, I don't understand it. I often don't understand the political and regional and economic and national and ethnical complexities that contribute to such unresolvable conflict that destruction and annihilation of other human beings becomes the only answer. What I do understand, however, is personal experience and personal tragedy. It is why a book by a young Jewish girl in hiding has become, on a global scale, more widely read than the Bible. We are taught in math to break things down to the smallest common denominator and in the context of large, complex wars the smallest common denominator becomes personal stories. Those we get, those we can wrap our heads around.
There is a poem entitled "People" by Yevgeny Yevtushenko. In it he writes: "In any man who dies there dies with him / his first snow and kiss and fight / it goes with him. . . Not people die but worlds die in them." Would it change us, if we viewed the loss of every human as the loss of a planet, a world?
God says in Moses 1:33 "And worlds without number have I created." Maybe he's referring to people as well as galaxies. In this context, the poet Yevtushenko echoes my sentiment: "And every time again and again / I make my lament against destruction."
This week, my hometown of Preston, Idaho is lamenting destruction. A young man, killed in Afghanistan, will be laid to rest today. I don't know Army Specialist Cody Moosman, but my heart aches for those who did and those who love him. I think our whole world diminishes a little with each human loss, but losses like this diminish us more. There were more snows, and kisses, and perhaps fights left for this young man and others like him.
My father knows the Moosman family. When I spoke to him he said, "I don't know what we're doing over there." I don't either. There is no way to win the Afghan war and no way to make a graceful exit. In the town I now live in yellow ribbons hang as a reminder of one of their own, Bowe Berghdahl, the only U.S. soldier known to be in captivity in Afghanistan. He has been a prisoner since June 2009. Three years. What he and his family must be enduring. . .
On Wednesday, cars lined the highway from the Idaho border to the mortuary in Preston where Army Specialist Cody Moosman's body was being taken. People stood with American flags and their hands over their hearts as the motorcade passed. Cody lost a brother about a year ago, we mourned with his family then and we do so again with his passing.
We can wrap our heads around individual loss, but destruction on a massive scale, that is something different. I will take my children to Washington, D.C. this summer. We will walk among the headstones in Arlington and rub our fingers on the names of soldiers who died in Vietnam. The sheer number of names and headstones will startle us. It will affect us. But the names on the wall will mostly be strangers to us: men and women we didn't know from places we've never been. Our Uncle John, though, lost a brother in Vietnam. His name we will find, because even though we might have never known him, our cousins would have. They've grown up without an uncle and probably an aunt and cousins they would have had: worlds of people to love and be loved by.
Today my thoughts and prayers will be with my little hometown and the Moosman family. I might not understand the Afghan war, but I understand loving and loss. I understand and honor his service to our country, a country I love despite it's failings and imperfections. I hope his family understands and accepts the shared mourning of their son. People will gather to honor and to pay respect to support and to mourn. They will do that not just for Cody, but for all the fallen and the lost. After all, the loss of an individual, a world, is no small thing. John Donne says it best:
"Each man's death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee."