May 7th, 2007 by lex
Wordsworth once wrote that “poetry is moments of emotion remembered in tranquillity.” This will not be poetry I’m afraid, because in my heart I am not quite yet tranquil, for reasons which are difficult to capture, far less to convey.
How do you remember things? Some people can quote at length passages from books that they have read years past. Others have a genius for linking names to faces, people they haven’t seen in decades. A friend of my father’s had a special capability: You could pick out any day in his life – he was well into his 60’s when I tried this with him – and he could tell you where he was and what he was doing.
For me, it is as though there are images – almost like html links, although that’s an admittedly awkward and self-referential simile – that I can select from that in turn evoke a feeling of almost being there again. It started on the Metro from Reagan National over to the King Street station in Alexandria. It was a bright, clear day and as the train ran south, the Potomac River lay on my left shoulder, bright, blue and sparkling. When I was a little thing my father had a boat, and he’d take us out on that river to fish, or just to spin about with the wind in our hair and laughter on our lips and suddenly I was seven years old again and it all came rushing back, the feeling of being safe and sure and very well loved. He was a good man.
There are many “holes” in Alexandria for me, places which used to be filled with light and joy and life but which now lay empty – this is the nature of things, the tendency towards chaos from order, a kind of entropy of the personal. His hole is one of the oldest, and I scarcely stop to notice it anymore – some are still so very much fresher – but there was that river rushing by.
To my sister’s house then for a quick brush up prior to the reception. We’ve gone there every Christmas since they bought the place, so it’s nearly as familiar to me as my own home, but so echoingly empty as to remind me that it was there that I glimpsed the only “ghost” I ever personally saw.
Then on to the reception, and the strangely gratifying sight of people you don’t know seeing your nametag and then suddenly smiling in lopsided recognition. Very pleased to finally meet you too. One could be tempted to feel rather chuffed and self-important, but there was an at least equally large cohort that looked me in the eye with the kind of polite blankness that indicates a perfect lack of recognition – a look that might have explicitly designed to de-chuff even the most naturally predisposed. Met old friends – some for the first time – and made new ones. Occasional reader RPL is very tall, as it turns out, as well as being gratifyingly self-deprecatory – he was one of a small number of those awarded special recognition for exceptional contributions to Soldier’s Angels. AW1 Tim is just as you might have pictured him. Only with a goatee. Holly Aho is a wee, bitty thing to have had such an effect on the world, but her baby daughter is smaller still. Sandi Hammersley is perfectly engaging, as is John Noonan of Opfor. Doc and Heather were there as well, and himself getting ready for his fourth pump to Anbar next year. Teresa is fun to hang out with, “Technicalities” or no. Omissions from here on are unintentional and regretted, and I blame the Guinness – there were too many fine folks to mention in one post in any case.
Interesting people, opinionated of course, but polite and attentive too. Many of the bloggers severally apologized to one another for their failures to comment (or even read), but who has the time? Some write, some read, still fewer comment – all of it is important for any of it to have meaning.
It was over all too soon, with the hotel staff not quite packing us up so much as tearing the place down around us come 2300. Never to fret, as previously mentioned, strong men there were and true who knew of another place to seek our entertainment no very great distance away.
No doubt because of my enduring jet lag (having only arrived the day previously) I slept in a bit and missed the opportunity to listen to the CINC speak to us, hizzoner being followed by a deployed flag officer in Baghdad from whom I would have liked to hear, not least because I knew him way back when he was a mere nobbut lieutenant commander. With a MiG kill. Everyone pressed on without me, in case you were in any way concerned.
The panels were fascinating, and well moderated – in fact the entire event was as well-conducted as anything of the like that I have seen, and I have seen quite a bit. My hat is raised in salute to Andi, upon whose exquisitely sculpted shoulders the weight of the entire enterprise rested, well done.
It was at least as much fun (if not more) on the breaks in between panels, talking to folks out in the hall – these are good people, making a real difference, and it was easy to feel humble in their presence. A really wonderful crowd, and one with whom – somewhat uniquely in these times of stark division – you could skip past the awkward formalities and the expectation of fractious assumptions to go straight to the heart of the matter in intelligent and well-informed conversation. Which is not to say that there was a stultifying uniformity of opinion, but rather that there was a presumption of educated good faith.
You don’t get that everywhere.
Lunch was interesting – the degree to which the MilBlogging phenomenon has become intertwined with Soldier’s Angels and Valour-IT was brought forth in stunning clarity. Our panel came after lunch, and I hope that I might have gotten through my small bit of it without completely disgracing the service. John Donovan did a splendid job moving us along, and one Noah Schactman bravely offered to play the MSM sacrificial lamb role – a part he played with distinction I thought, such is the burden under which the media labors in our community. I heard some feedback that I might have challenged him more vigorously, but having carefully listened to what he was actually saying, I found little to disagree with, but perhaps that’s a post for a different day. In any case, as a sin-eater for the biases of mainstream press he’s a uniquely poor choice. I would have liked to see a little more of Anna Marie Cox, though.
Ah, well: Lost chances, and we must bravely through.
It wasn’t all beer and skittles of course. There were some hard points made about the quality of care for wounded soldiers in transition between surgical wards and the rest of their lives. I bought a drink after Saturday’s panels were done for a strikingly handsome young man and his beautiful wife who are each of them trying both together and in their own way to understand the outlines of a future in which he recovers from having lost his right arm and some function in his left hand in consequence of an IED attack. “It sucks,” he said at one point, but I was struck by his bravery and determination as well as that of his lady – this is something that happened to him, a “life-changing” event, but he will not let it define him. Together with the frank and moving testimony of a father still grieving the loss of his son – a man who grew under his gaze from a babe in arms to “Six-foot-two, 200 pounds of rock-hard muscle,” and a tale which wet many an eye, I wondered again from a more personal perspective where they come from, these people, and hope again that we ultimately deserve what they have given for us.
These are difficult things to write about, and I can’t do them justice. Not yet at least. Maybe not ever.
Cocktails after – photos were taken, at least of someone who looks like me standing on a bar stool, for the love of God – and I afterwards found myself in the very pleasant company of a number of wonderful people who made valiant if ultimately futile attempts to reduce your humble scribe’s sense of self-esteem to a level more proportionate to his actual talents. Ultimately casting aside that task as being unattainable with the resources at hand, they turned instead to plying me with strong spirits, probably in the fond hope that they could shut me up, but no: Poor things.
Any offense I may have given from, oh: Say 0130 onwards I earnestly regret, even as I will stoutly deny any recollection of having committed them in any theoretical, future Congressional hearings.
The memory, you know: Second thing to go.
The rest you know about. Apart from from the image of gruff John Donovan, he of the gun pr0n and clue-bats, standing beside me playing “Taps” in rememberence of our Absent Friends. Literally trembling with suppressed emotion.
I think I’m the only one who saw that, and nodded. Knowing.
Good to have done, and good to be home.
Editor – Lex was at a Milblog Conference