My younger brother left for Iraq last May. His wife gave birth to their first child in August. The hospital lost the Web feed with Baghdad, so we had to stay connected the old-fashioned way, with cell phones. I provided the play-by-play to my brother over the phone as I tried to allay his fears and let him know his wife and child were safe. As we celebrated our happiness over a new generation of our family being born, the unmistakable sounds of bombs and artillery fire provided the background score.
My brother did not say much that day, but he didn't have to.
We talked over Christmas. I tried to disguise the tremendous guilt I felt, floating through the sea of wrapping paper and gift tags. This was the first Christmas in 22 years we didn't spend together, and the looming possibility of never having another Christmas together ticked in the static on the phone.
"Is it getting any better over there?" I asked.
"No," he said bluntly.
He didn't really say much that day either.
Recently, I heard a story from friends in the military who rallied around one another for support after a convoy of their men and women were attacked. As I tried to get details of the attack, one brief text message spoke volumes: "My friends are hurting."
I spent the rest of the weekend reading and rereading that message. Each time, it felt just as fresh and raw as I thought of the friends and families of those involved. Of course, I thought of my little brother, too.
Whenever I mention my brother to anyone new—and I try to talk about him often—they tend to ask what it's like to have a sibling at war. People do not quite understand the twinge of panic when a breaking news bulletin is posted, the terror of late-night phone calls, or just the process of daily living for 18 months, praying for the best and fearing the worst reality has to offer. For most civilians, it's easy to forget we are a nation in the fifth year of war—especially now, as corporate media push the bad news out of Iraq to the back burner in aid of their presidential agendas.
When people ask me how I cope, I realize I don't have much to say about the experience—but I shouldn't have to. The question alone is explosive. If the casualties of this war were as personal to everyone as it has been for some, it would have ended long ago. But it is as personal to every one of us. Beyond the rhetoric, politics and spin, by the next time the smoke clears and the next news flash airs, if we truly wish to support the troops maybe we should all say to ourselves, "Our friends are hurting."