I teach fifth grade, nothing complicated: slavery, ratios and proportions, why the good side always prevails in war. Half my students at the Army base are children of Second Cavalry, currently deployed; the other half First Infantry, now stateside, soon enough to ship out again. These kids pull extra duty at home with a soldier parent gone to war; they grow up fast and live with doubt. Mostly, though, they act like fifth graders whose parents love them and have a job. For a few, the sufferers of pre-traumatic stress syndrome, I guess, the nightmares precede the loss. For others, the combat death of a Mom or Dad does just what you’d expect. I have a classroom full of kids who go to war by webcam and, just like soldiers in the field, they react in all the ways a person could to being shot at every day. I often wonder what they hear in the background during those calls to the war zone. When individually they panic, I talk to them of training and preparedness and ask them if their Dad takes living seriously, and show them on the map just how big a territory he has to hide in from the worst of the fighting. If they ask me why my wife didn’t make it back, I say she served four tours before that last one, that long odds caught up with her, that her life was courageous. I don’t know if it convinces them. It’s just that certain afternoons when the room is hot and stagnant, arithmetic will lose its charms and I can tell it’s time to put the books away and try again. We understand that, they tell me every time. But why? We’ve heard those reasons, too, they say. But why? Why, really?

Copyright © March 25, 2007 David Hodges

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