Well this is supposed to be a review of the Wilco concert I went to with John last night. It was going to start out like this:
Passion – when Jeff Tweedy throws the guitar behind his back, stares dead into your eyes, like you’re the only two in the room, and sings (in that sweet tenor, an octave higher than the other verses):
Disposable Dixie cup drinking
I assassin down the avenue.
I been hidin’ out in the big city blinkin’
What was I thinkin’ when I let go of you?
. . . but here’s the way my damn muse works . . .
I’m driving home after taking Sam to school, listening to Bill Mallonee. We put him in the player after the show last night because concert etiquette dictates “you shall not listen, on CD, to the band you just heard live – unless you want to be sorely disappointed.”
So Bill was singing America, a song about his Dad, who fought in WWII. And I was remembering how the crowd sang: We can make it better, after Jeff sort of inspired us with some peace talk.
Which obviously brings lots of things to mind, but for me it’s a few memories from February of 1991.
My family had just moved from sheltered, suburbian Sherwood, AR to rural, cotton-filled Lepanto. For some reason I can’t recall, we’d gone back to visit Sherwood on Feb. 7th. That’s the day Timmy Ballard kissed me, leaning on a windowsill of the roughly constructed “new building,” at Highway Baptist Church. He made me promise not to tell anyone – Ha Ha!
Anyway, the next week I got a letter from Timmy, written while he was in some class at the local community college. Somewhere in the first paragraph, after asking me how I was doing, he told me how he was . . . "tired, hungry, cold, and sick of war."
I remember thinking that I would always remember that sentence.
My uncle David went to “Sowdi” during the first Gulf War. Was it the shortest war ever fought? I don’t know, but remember how it dragged on – thanks to live coverage? I know it dragged on for us. Because, like any family involved, we were waiting on a loved one to come home.
Later that month, my Ma Maw and Pa Paw came to visit us at our new house.
I’ll never forget kneeling, on our living room floor, our hands held in a circle while my Pa Paw prayed for Uncle David’s safe return. You have to know my Pa Paw for this next part to carry its full weight. He was the definition of stoic (he’s changed somewhat since my Ma Maw died three and a half years ago). Pa Paw began to get choked up. He could barely finish as the tears rolled down his cheek.
Have I mentioned how old I was? 14. 15 years ago, and the memory is still so palpable. I feel the struggle for composure as if it were going on right now.
The other memory from that year is meeting Uncle David at the army hanger when he returned. Summer in Arkansas, with hundreds of other sign waving, yellow ribbon bearers – it was hot.
The first thing out of his mouth, after being plied with hugs by every family member,
“Let’s get out of this hell!”
My cousin Jeremiah, David’s son, would have been eight or nine.
The line from Bill’s song that brings Jeremiah to mind:
I remember standing 'round
a vacant corner of some playground
Hoping we might get you back
Dying to make contact . . . contact
Now let me say this. I could have been heard to say, at that time in my life, how if I were over there, with a gun in my hand, and Saddam in my sights. I’d shoot him down.
I was not at all sad to hear he’d been captured. I agreed with the decision to go and get him. He is an awful man.
But today I am weary.
I’ve been in and out of many airports the past two years. I always see a few soldiers getting ready to join the war, returning to it, or coming home. I can’t help but cry when you see the wives waiting at security. I feel like an intrusive voyeur, but I have to watch them embrace.
I’ve also seen many banners stretched across the bridges of highways – some say “Welcome Home,” but a lot say “In Memory.”
Timmy was tired of war because he didn’t want to have to go.
And my uncle, he had no idea there would be lots more hell to come. His “small” part in a “small” war changed his life forever.
I don’t like the thought that Uncle David’s pain is only a fraction of the waves of pain that have pulsed through this country in the past five years. I don’t like it at all.
It makes me feel like waging War on War. After all, we’ve learned how to die. Haven’t we? I’m afraid we’ve learned it too well. We’ve learned it so much – the whole world has. . .
Well, we’ve learned to die, anyway. But, I’m not so sure we’ve learned how. I think all we know about how to die is to go out fighting.
And what’s wrong with that, huh? It seems like a decent way to go . . .
But then I think about Tom Fox, a man who did not die fighting. Tom died loving, loving people that I would’ve called enemies.
Compared to Tom, and someone else he reminds me of, I really don’t know how to die. In fact, I still have a whole lot to learn. I think I’d like to learn it though. Because if I am going to die one day. I’d like to be able to say that somewhere along the way, I actually lived.