I got the call around noon from my husband, Brent. The health clinic at the University of Maryland Honors College thought our son Travis had appendicitis.
Brent, fearing the appendix would burst, speedily drove Travis to the Navy Hospital in Bethesda.
There, doctors ran tests, poked Travis in the belly, and agreed that acute appendicitis was exactly what ailed him. They scheduled surgery for whenever the operating room would be available—eight hours later, as it turned out.
I arrived at the hospital and hugged Travis. He was in a lot of pain, so he was given morphine, which made him groggy. Which is why I started talking to his roommate.
Todd, as I’ll call him, was a young Marine. His left leg was propped up and heavily bandaged; the jeep he’d been riding in Afghanistan had hit a roadside bomb. Todd had already endured multiple surgeries and faced several more, including a seven-hour session just two days later. I told him Travis—whose long hair made it obvious he was not a jarhead—had appendicitis.
“That sucks!” Todd said cheerfully.
When Brent returned to the room from a lunch break, I introduced him to Todd. “His jeep ran over an IUD,” I explained.
Brent choked on his Coke. “You mean IED,” he said.
“What did I say?”
Todd looked puzzled. “Intrauterine device,” Brent explained. “My wife thinks the Taliban are using exploding birth control devices to kill the infidels.”
Todd’s parents came to visit. His dad had to return home to North Carolina to ride herd on Todd’s younger siblings, so this was goodbye for a while. His mom and I talked, and as we did, I kept glancing over at Todd with a sense of unbelief. This badly wounded kid was younger than my son, whom I tend to think of as about 12 years old. I couldn’t imagine letting him be sent off into an environment where people were going to try to kill him on a daily basis.
Todd reminded me of the 19-year-old son of my friend Kelly—a young man named Joshua who was shot in the chest in Iraq, but was saved by his body armor. On another occasion, a bomb went off not far away, knocking Joshua about 15 feet away. His mother told me Joshua’s emails from Iraq were a mixed blessing. She was relieved when they arrived, but if a day or two went by without one, she was terrified.
When Todd’s mother left, Todd told me about how he’d given the news of his injury to his mom. He was in a hospital in Afghanistan, and insisted on calling her himself rather than allowing a doctor or priest or whoever to call, which he knew would immediately frighten his mother. So he called—and called—and called. Mom wasn’t home. Todd began to feel slightly irritated, and then downright indignant. After all, his mom was supposed to be at home worried about him every minute. That was her job! Moms aren’t supposed to have a life of their own. So when Todd’s mom finally answered her telephone late that evening, he angrily blurted out, “I’ve been blown up!”
Well, naturally, his mother had hysterics. “I felt kind of bad after that,” Todd confided.
When his mom and I paced the hospital halls a little later, I told her what Todd had said. She confirmed the story. Not a fun mothering moment, she noted.
Travis went home the next day, appendix-less. I went back to visit Todd a couple more times, and baked him some cookies to eat on the trip home. He would be back a month later for more surgery.
Seeing Todd and some of the other wounded warriors who were recovering in Bethesda, I felt a little guilty. My own son would be back at school Monday morning, after a weekend at home, demanding his favorite meatballs and macaroni and cheese to aid in his recovery. Whereas Todd’s mother, and Joshua’s mother, had many months of worry ahead of them when their sons returned to the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. So do thousands of other moms whose children are serving their country around the world. And that’s tough on them.
As I wrote elsewhere a few years ago, if it were up to mothers, no son or daughter would ever volunteer for military service. We don’t like seeing our children do dangerous things, whether it’s leaping from the top of jungle gyms or volunteering for rescue missions in a war zone.
But if mothers really could pick their children’s careers, what kind of a world would we have? We would wake up one morning to discover that we had no more soldiers, policemen, firemen, prison guards, life guards, or first responders. We would awaken to a world in which the strong preyed on the weak, a world in which millions would be abandoned to the tender mercies of terrorists and serial killers, to those who rape and torture, exploit and enslave.
What a terrible world it would be.
In his book, The Call, theologian Os Guinness writes: “At some point every one of us confronts the question: How do I find and fulfill the central purpose of my life? ... Answering the call of our Creator is 'the ultimate why' for living, the highest source of purpose in human existence."
Which means for some moms, life is going to be filled with more worry than for others as their children carry out necessary tasks in a fallen world. Right now, some of those moms are trying to catch some sleep on a sofa or chair in the family lounge in military hospitals across the country. I know—I joined them for just one night when Travis spent the night at the Navy Hospital. When our kids are hurting, we want to stay close to them.
So say a prayer for the mothers of military sons and daughters, and give them a helping hand if they need it—or be willing to listen if they need to talk. And thank God that a good many sons and daughters are willing to take on the hard jobs.
Travis’s surgery was two weeks ago, but I was just reminded again that every tough young Marine is somebody’s much-loved child. My cousin from Oklahoma emailed to tell me her son Carey, who is being commissioned a Second Lieutenant this week at Quantico, is being assigned to the Pentagon and needs a place to stay while he searches for permanent housing. We offered to take in this boy—whom we’ve never met—relieving both his worries and his mom’s.
Happy to do it. It will be fun having him around.
Anne Morse is a senior writer at BreakPoint.
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