Walk In Their Shoes WITS went to Stockton today, to the pretty park plaza adjacent to the county courthouse. The shoes, placed three feet or so apart, around the circumference of the fountain, made a jarring contrast to the beauty & tranquility of the place. Although the plaza was pretty busy for a sleepy, little town in the middle of the valley, few folks ventured over to see the shoes and read the names, most hanging back almost shyly to observe solemnly.
Except for one pale, slender white woman, about my age, who was drawn to approach us. She knew we were against the war and she wanted bitterly to warn us about mistreating returning soldiers – her son could be among that category one day.
As the other women tried to reassure her retreating back that we were not there to bash the soldiers, I scurried after her, reaching out. I told her I was so sorry her son was there & that we were working our damnedest to get him and all the other young people back asap.
She turned, eyeing me as warily as a coyote I stumbled upon last fall. I asked her if she realized there has not been one documented case of a soldier having been spit on by anti-war demonstrators. She adamently said she knew plenty – until I asked her for names. She couldn’t think of one – and then she thought maybe the guy that worked in her building was one. I asked her to have him call me.
I went on to ask her if she’s seen “Sir NO Sir” yet, to which she replied no. I told her about how that Vietnam vet traveled the country to try to find one veteran that was spit on. He came up empty!
She told me that once someone makes a decision to go into the army, we no longer have the right to say anything to them – they’ve made a decision that is right for them. My heart went out to this mother who couldn’t find a way to keep her son from joining the military. I’ve heard this desperate reasoning before – the abdicating responsibility in the horror of another’s decisions.
I told her as a mother, a woman, an adult who loves & cares for my country & fellow humans, that I DO have not only the right but the responsibility to express my opinion. I said if her son (or brother or husband or anyone) decided it was a good idea to head to the train tracks to jump on the next passing train, was I just going to wave them on? No way. I would tell them what I think.
I told her expressing my differing opinion didn’t mean controlling anyone’s life nor disrespecting them as a human being – it meant expressing my opinion and maybe disrespecting their decision. I sure as hell couldn’t make anyone do anything unfortunately in this case.
Her belligerence and anger slowly morphed into her desperation and isolation over her son and his decision to give his life defending our country. She struggled with her pride, her fear, her losing control over this joyous little life she brought into this world only to have him go off to war.
Her eyes filled, her face anguished, as she reveal he had made bad choices when he was in high school, limiting his future, sending him down that dangerous path predestined to end in jail or war.
I told her about the GI rights hotline. I told her about MFSO. I urged her to reach out and get support for herself. I left her with my determination to end this war and bring her son home now.