Sunday, June 10, 2007

Counting the weeks 

He’s been gone a week. The first week of how many - 26? 39? Weeks during which we will be living with a permanent undercurrent of anxiety. Not enough knowledge that the anxiety takes on tangible form; our fears will take shape only in nightmares, springing largely from our own imaginations, and so can be calmed – to a degree – by the voice of reason. Perhaps it’s as well that we’ll be spared the full graphic reality. Nevertheless, for the next six to none months, there will be a new picture playing in the multi-screen cinema of our lives. A tougher, grittier drama than any we’ve seen before.

Our eldest son, J., is in the TA – the Territorial Army, the volunteer reserve to the Regular Army. He’s been called up for a six month tour of duty in Afghanistan. For these first few weeks he’s still completing training here in the UK; he’ll be home next weekend and will have a longer spell of leave before flying overseas, but as of last Sunday, he’s no longer a weekend soldier, driving a laptop on weekdays and an army truck at weekends; now he’s a full-time soldier. For the next few months, he belongs to the army, in the service, as they rather archaically put it, of The Crown. We become merely the folks back home, sharing a new-found intensity of interest in the fine detail of the news from that almost forgotten corner of the globe with other such families who can only wait and hope and pray.

I have such mixed feelings about this whole business; the confusion in my mind wont resolve itself so I push it to the back, the opposing sides sitting like two fighters in opposite corners of the ring, not yet slugging it out because there can be no winner in this battle of feelings. Instead I focus on the here and now and let the contradictions remain, an uneasy truce between them.

So I’m not going to attempt to justify the presence of British troops in Afghanistan, save to say that, unlike Iraq, there may be some justification since the Taleban appear to be a genuine threat, unlike Iraq’s phantom WMDs. But to what extent does our military engagement with them turn them into the enemy?

No, I’m not going any further down that road. Already, as I write, such thinking has diverted my mind and my heart into abstractions, away from the reality of a father and son relationship. The conflict, and J’s part it in, are facts which I’m not going to change. Far better to put my energy into supporting him emotionally in every way I can.

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