NPR has had a series of interviews during “Morning Edition” this week that I believe they are calling “The Mothers of Section 60.” Section 60 is the part of Arlington National Cemetery where the soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq are being buried. The mothers there all know one another and have formed their own group.
It’s a hard series to listen to on so many levels, but yesterday and today, as I was lying in bed with the radio on, trying to drag my brain to some level of awareness, I listened. Their interviews, the words they use, the emotions they describe…they are the same words and phrases I’ve seen over and over on the blogs of the medusas*. They talk about those dates that Mel, at Stirrup Queens, calls terrorversaries…birthdays, deathdays. One mother this morning talked about how she is just starting to be able to use phrases like, “my dead son.” I may have imagined it, but I think another mother, new to the group, kept shifting from past and present tense, something I had a hard time with. Another reminisces about asking one of the other mothers when it got easier. “It never does.”
Every question the interviewer asked these mothers, I knew how they would answer before I heard the words. Their answers were the same as mine would be. Empty. Lost. Angry.
There was one more similarity that wasn’t lost on me. The group that they have formed, they email, they meet. They have formed a relationship based on their shared experience, one that a great many people never have and can’t fully understand.
“When mothers and family members join the group do you see them going through things that you’ve already been through?”
“It’s interesting because you do. But at the same time, when we talk to each other, so much of the time we feel like we’re at the beginning because you feel like you’re losing it completely many times.”
“You feel like you’re in a different world than everybody else. You don’t speak the language and you can’t explain your language to them.”
“Then it must have been amazing for you to find each other, people who do speak your langauge.”
“Absolutely. And you feel like you’re alone. I mean, I came to Arlington thinking, knowing, rationally that you’re not alone but feeling like you are the ONLY person this has happened to, then you meet that first person that’s priceless.”
“So you feel such a relief that you can be who you are, and if someone comes up to you and says, “How are you doing?” you can really tell them how you are doing.”
It is those hands, reaching out of the darkness. The voices that seem to know when to be silent, when to speak softly, when to be boisterous and irreverent. Is it that we find strength in numbers? Does it make it easier to be lost in a crowd of others who feel equally out of phase with everyone else? Whether you had nineteen years, three weeks, ten minutes, or no time at all, it doesn’t seem to make any difference. It doesn’t get any easier.
I don’t have any answers. I don’t really have any point to this post. Consider it a random brain dump of thoughts that have been circling like ill-tempered sea bass (a virtual cookie to whomever knows the source of that) for the two days I’ve been listening to these interviews.
*From the first moment I read their description, I loved the concept of being a Medusa. It feels…right. You tuck the snakes up under your cap to try to get through a day. You watch those around you take sidelong glances, afraid to catch your eye, worried of saying the wrong thing. At the end of some days, it’s all you can do to get through the front door before you let the snakes writhe free, as the paralyzing bolts of light shoot from your eyes, taking down any innocents who get in the way. This trying to pass for normal, when my new standard for “normal” has shifted 180 degrees, is exhausting.