When you become a soldier's mother, suddenly, in some way, all soldiers become your sons, and all mothers of soldiers become extensions of who you are, who you might be or become. You learn this slowly, as you need to. When something happens, these sisters reach out and touch you, support you, offer you their strength when you aren't sure; their calm faith when you want to panic and be scared.
You take turns being up or down. When they feel you are down, they write, reach out, calm. You'll get through today; tomorrow will be better. And then, when you see they are down, you write, reach out, calm and hope tomorrow will be better for them too.
I could check back how far, but it doesn't really matter...several months ago, one woman left an incredibly sensitive message and another wrote that I should check her blog. In the midst of whatever it was at the time, I read Knottie's Niche. I read it again. I was embarrassed, humbled. How could I complain, how could I ever write again about my son after having read her blog?
I wondered how she managed to write in such a beautiful way, from a place so sad. Knottie's son Micheal (his nickname was Pokey), was a young American soldier, killed in action in Iraq a bit over a year ago. So much of what I write about Elie, she recognizes. So much of what she writes about Micheal, I understand. It is the universal language of being the mother of a soldier - Israeli...or American, and probably others as well.
In many ways, we are further joined by our countries fighting a similar enemy - extremism, those who kill in the name of religion and care little for who stands in their way. They justify suicidal attacks and indiscrimminate killings. They glory in death and steal the lives of those we hold dear.
Micheal was the oldest in his family, his character and personality defined long before he went to Iraq. He was the one who made others laugh; he loved thunderstorms. Knottie too has her pictures of the little boy who played with the toy trucks. No matter what she tells us about Micheal, it is too little to know about a boy, a man, a soldier. His picture, his face, his smile, tells me so much more and still I know there is so much I can never know. His family struggles to learn to cope with his loss. It is there in Knottie's posts sometimes.
He touched many while he served his country and his parents continue to this day to talk with Micheal's brothers in the armed services. Today, Micheal would have been 21-years-old and his mother wrote an amazing post, Happy Birthday, Pokey and tonight in America, she and her family will celebrate Pokey's life. "On this day I have made the choice to celebrate my son and his life...tomorrow I will go back to mourning him," she writes.
I've learned so much from reading Knottie's blog. She doesn't want people to say that she is strong, that she is coping well. She wants to be free to be angry or sad and not have to live up to anyone else's expectations. She uses her blog, as I use mine, as a tool both for herself and for others. She calls herself a "Gold Star Mom" - and her husband has now started his own blog Gold Star Dad that is dedicated to "Remembering and Honoring a Fallen Son." This was a term I had not heard - they have lost a son and so become a gold star family.
What you find, from reading these blogs, is the universality of grief and the varied ways people learn to live with it. I have often heard Israeli families who have lost children talk about the amazing support they continue to receive from the friends of the fallen soldier. These friends adopt the parents, escort them through their lives. They invite the parents to their weddings, the celebrations that they would have had with their own children. These parents lose one child and, in effect, are given many others so that the lose is tempered with the knowledge that others remember too.
After the Second Lebanon War ended a few years ago, the army took an ex-reserve soldier who had lost a son, and allowed him to patrol with his son's unit in the final days before the troops stood down. What his son could never finish, the father explained, he would do this one time.
The other soldiers walked with him, watched him, and surrounded him. This is something I have always known about the Israeli army and was so touched to find it is true in America as well. There is such beauty in the way Micheal's father writes about his son and each word could be written for our army as well. He writes of the doctor who tried to save his son with gratitude for his efforts and he writes of the many who came to visit them in the days after they received the news that devastated their lives.
I think that's the reason why I am so impressed with their blogs. They remind us that sometimes what we experience here, others really do share. We are a tiny nation, placed in the midst of our enemies. Micheal was an American soldier, sent off to a land far from his own. He was never alone there; and Micheal's parents' blogs tell me that we are never really alone here either.
The message that Micheal's parents give throughout their writings is one of pride in country and family. Tomorrow, as Knottie writes, tomorrow they will again mourn - but for today, they choose to celebrate the amazing son and amazing life they created on the anniversary of his birth.
Happy birthday, Micheal - may your memory be blessed and may your family know no more sorrow.