I wrote this sketch while in Afghanistan. I don’t need a picture (not that I would have taken one) because I can still see the scene and faces of those involved as if they are in the same room with me. It seemed appropriate to post this today as we reflect on our lives and how the events of 11 September 2001 shaped who and what we are today.
July 06, 2010, 22:09
Normally the words Marine and beauty are not used in the same breath, or even the same paragraph. One of my dear friends, himself a Marine who deployed in 2001 to Iraq, once told me that Marines use the F bomb like most people use punctuation. Perhaps that is why what I am about to describe makes my heart ache all the more. One day last week I wandered into the MWR/A (Morale, Welfare, Recreation/Activity) Tent to engage in some recreational activity on my computer. For several days KAIA had been overflowing with Marines. They were everywhere you went- the DFAC (dining facility), the gym-DUH, and the MWR/A. They were usually seen in clumps of at least five just talking quietly among themselves. They sunbathed, messed up the showers (at least the female showers- there were females among them), smoked, and drank lots of coffee, but mostly they just walked around looking detached from it all.
Many were quite young- maybe twenty- but I overheard discussions about husbands, wives, and children. Back to my own wanderings… As I entered the upstairs internet area I was stopped by a scene of simplicity, innocence, incongruence, and yes, beauty. Recalling it still brings tears to my eyes. Directly in front of me, about ten feet away were five Marines gathered around a low coffee table. Their average age couldn’t have been twenty-one. One of them looked all of sweet sixteen, emphasis on sweet. At first I thought they were playing a game, but in that split second in which realizations come, I saw that they were working a jigsaw puzzle. They were so peaceful and calm, passing pieces to each other and whispering. Two were perched on the arms of their buddies’ chairs. At a table nearby, a lone Marine was working on another puzzle by himself, but also talking in a near whisper with his buddies.
I stood looking for as long as I dared, then took a seat. It’s best not to stare at Marines for too long. Where were they headed, I wondered. That sort of question is just passing conversation around here, but it seemed wrong to disturb them to find out. I was pretty sure they were headed South- always a safe bet with the Marines in Afghanistan. A week later I learned that some Marines had drowned in a river down south. They were on a routine mission. I wondered if any of the young men I had seen on my base were among those who were lost or who were hurting. Given their location, I knew they probably had no puzzles or time to work them. I wonder where they are now.