Friday, April 16, 2004

Sacrificing our Sons and Daughters

My youngest son called me from Florida the other night, just to let me know he's ok. He is 19. He hooked up with a company that sells zines. I advised him against it, having heard horror stories about such outfits. But he threw in with them just the same, and is having the greatest adventure of his life. He's visited most of the states, and spent Christmas in Mexico. He's making good money, has been promoted, and gets to do a lot of driving, which he loves. He seems to have found his knack; sales. Good for him.

He was a unique child. The Christmas he turned 11, he asked for only one thing; a Santa suit. A strange request, but we honored it. On Christmas day, he donned his new outfit, complete with beard and boots, and begged me to take him to the store. Since there were a couple of items needed for Christmas dinner, I finally gave in, and off we went, with this miniature Santa sitting in the front seat, clutching a red pillowcase which he had filled with candy canes.

When we entered the only convenience store open on Christmas day, there were a few young children waiting in line with their parents. They stared in awe at my little companion in his red suit, who promptly walked up to each one, and presented them with a candy cane.

As we left the store, it began to dawn on me what was going on. As he approached the age when the realization that Santa is a mythical being begins to come to light, my son was determined not to completely let go of something that had been a source of much joy for so many years. His solution was to become Santa for others. As I said, a unique child.

As we drove home, we passed the city park. Since it was a beautiful California day, there were a number of families enjoying a Christmas picnic. Santa turned and gave me one pleading look. I pulled in and parked. He got out, and a gaggle of children soon surrounded him as he began to distribute candy canes. The parents thought he was simply adorable (which he was of course, but I am a bit bias).

Finally reaching the bottom of his sack, he reluctantly returned to the car. As we pulled away, the children and their parents all waved and shouted, "Good bye Santa!" He rolled down the window, and his white gloved hand slowly waved back in forth, in perfect imitation of the best Santa from any Macy's parade.

The next few years were difficult for my boy. Some of them were spent traveling with me across the country, as we shared various apartments in cities far removed from his friends and siblings. We walked through those difficult years together, often with only one another to cling to as "family."

He showed no interest in college, and was anxious to strike out on his own when he turned 18. I had strongly encouraged him to enlist, and had even convinced him to contact a recruiter. I had enlisted at his age, and am a firm believer that every young person needs to give their country a couple of years of service. In his case, I also felt that possibly the military would teach him some of the life skills it had taught me; such as getting up to go to work if you felt like it or not; stuff like that.

He met a number of times with the recruiter, and was in the process of pulling together the transcripts and other documents needed before signing up. Then one night he called me, announcing that he had met some young people working for this zine company, and had decided to give it a shot. I stated my reservations, but could tell how important it was to him. In the end, I gave him my blessing, and he hit the road.

I don't think he ever really wanted to enlist. Today, on a personal level, I thank God he didn't. I look at the pictures of those young men in Iraq, and realize my little Santa could have easily been one of them.

These young men are doing their patriotic duty. I do not blame them for the fiasco in Fallujah. I hold their leaders accountable; leaders who have been taught how to conduct urban warfare by the Israelis. One would think that the lack of success on the part of the Israeli army to appropriately respond to the violence in their own country would be enough to convince our leaders that Israeli instructors might not be the best choice. Apparently not. And so our sons are being killed, and forced to decide if they should fire on that blurry form running across a blood-soaked street in Fallujah.

I grieve with those families who have lost loved ones. And I hold our leaders accountable for these deaths. There must be a better way than to create yet another generation of young people who are sent across the ocean, and return to us as damaged goods, haunted forever by the horror of being remade into a killing machine; with the distribution of bullets replacing the memory of candy canes.


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