She said they ran to her like baby chicks run to the cover of their mother’s wings. They surrounded her like the flow of ocean water surrounds the ankles soon after the ebb has retreated. Shouting like the crowded hometown pub crawlers that just witnessed their underdog introduce the prize fighter to the canvas, these youthful beings gave to my sister what she can only describe as a moment of surreal connection, even though each was a stranger to her — a moment that held in its hand the notion not that the war was over on that day, but that it had ended forever.
My sister has been in the Army Reserves for more than a decade and has been deployed twice, with countless days on all sides of those deployments used to influence the world with her presence and flavor her perspective with the many corners of the world. She told me a story as she exited her vehicle one day on her first deployment: A group of school-aged children ran to her with ecstasy that she and her fellow soldiers had arrived, surrounding the soldiers with gratitude made of the innocence of salvation, wearing smiles the size of a revolution. For her it seemed a moment consistent with the weightlessness of hope ... the way that angels must witness the world.
I have often thought of what it is that my sister is trying to accomplish through her service, and have jaywalked into countless conversations and newscasts vigorously supporting or violently discarding the notions of this country’s attendance in the political and personal proceedings of others around the globe. There are many battle lines drawn in the sands of time when it comes to the right and necessity to intercede in human suffering and cultural discourse, but that is our human nature — to care willingly during our deepest moments of personal introspection and attempted existence and to think we can repair what has malfunctioned.
As can be expected during any stretch of life spent learning and adjusting to the intricacies of the architect’s urban and rural landscapes, my sister has changed throughout her time in the military. She has exceeded the borders of the local atlas and the boundaries of any single acre of expectation, regulated not by the cookie cutter but versed in the responsibility of expansion, like the tree branches that she grew with reaching only further into the ocean blue. She seemingly views the forest past the trees.
Her experience is not without its barriers, of course. I imagine she has seen things that few would ever want to, for my intuition senses certain levels of stress in her emotional application toward her surroundings that indicates to me the number of people she desires to discuss such matters with are of select company. She agitates easily when her loved ones do not approve of her sense of value and respect, but that is understood as the index of an individual perspective, something of which I think each of us desires to have roaming freely within ourselves.
We were taught to never relish in hate for any person or situation by our parents and by our Father above, and although we both understand that there is evil in this world, we accept the construction before and the alterations thereafter rather than the fragments of disconnection in between. I know that some individuals feel as if they were born to be combatants against all others, but my sister and I both have hearts that have been and will continue to be molded to withstand the punishment of the onslaught ... so long as we hold the fort as the mob continues to surge toward us. Our efforts are constant in reorganizing the expectations of those we interact with by personifying the love and humanitarianism that exterminates the animals wandering the jungle free of conscience or commitment.
I’ve seen photographs of my sister in her camouflage attire, body sharpened by the cosmetics of composure, throughout her career with the military, and I understand why she raises her hand to her forehead. She is saluting that salvation that those children believed in that day next to her convoy. She is showcasing without remorse her commitment to ending the struggle in any way possible, remembering always those who have sacrificed for her and stand proudly beside her. She is being the distributor of deliverance that she was born to be.
Thank you, Heidi. Not for being a soldier in the military, but for being a soldier of the cause. Your actions make your family proud and the world a stronger place. You will always have your brother’s love, that mine may be one of the countless sets of hands that lift you within your mission as you close in on the possibility of peace.
Eric Engel, formerly of Tiskilwa but now of Peoria, can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.