Stories Need To Be Told...

...lest they dissolve into oblivion.
There are moments that need to be captured and made eternal simply because there is a wealth of emotions and spirituality in them. Painting a picture with words is one of the ways to immortalize these for people who were not there and for the future generation.
This is my contribution....



Tuesday, February 23, 2010

SOLDIERS


The sun was out and the atmosphere at the camp was ...peaceful. As we traversed the road where the Court Martial hearing was to be held, there was a tug at the heart as I saw a sprinkling of men and women in uniform. These are the men and women who would take up arms to defend you and I, should a threat be present – both foreign and domestic. These are the men and women who would lay down their lives so that you and I could live ours to the fullest. And then we arrive at our destination.

It was a wide compound, serene, grasses, trees, mini rolling hills. I could still smell the scent of morning for it was barely 9 am. After some rudimentary tasks of registering with the guards, etcetera, we proceeded to the back area of the one storey structure. There, the soldiers were.

Lounging about between two gazebos, in their complete camouflage uniform, proudly bearing the military division they belong to, and their names. Each one was jovial, warm in their greeting, albeit bearing an inquiring stance, as to who I am. Introductions were made and every other handshake was different. I was told early in life by a wise woman, for me to mind my handshakes because it is the first definition of who a person is, upon introduction. The best handshake, I was told, was the kind that was firm and unhurried. Confident. Well the handshakes of the soldiers were some of the most confident handshakes I have ever experienced. All of them, looked me straight in the eye as they said, ‘Good Morning, Ma’am.” None of them asked why I was there. They were far too disciplined to be as intrusive as that. But I knew they were going to slyly listen to me, if and when I chose to talk. They will know me through their own unobtrusive efforts.

Since the soldiers were detained in separate camps, they came in batches. Whenever a group would arrive, I detected a sense of quiet excitement among those that were already present. I realize then, moments like these are the only moments they get to be together again, in brotherhood. Moments like these are the only moments they are among those that understand them deeply. A few hours, and then they are yanked apart again. For four years, this has been the routine. It was amazing, how, simply by observing them, one can tell the mutual respect they had for one another. The military is notorious for the competitive rivalry between its divisions – the army, the navy, the air force. Well in that backyard, the only rivalry I saw was that of the best nature. Jokes and bantering, very much like what you would see between blood brothers.

After a little while, food arrived. Not a lot – pansit and chopped roasted chicken, and a big bottle or two of Coke. Now you have to understand, these are grown men. Some of the most well built men in uniform I have ever seen. But they helped themselves to the food in modesty- making sure there was enough for everyone. Even for me, a stranger who has her freedom and can eat as much pansit as she wants, whenever she wants. Selfishness is not something that belonged in that atmosphere. Chivalry was very much alive. No sooner than I find myself standing that I find myself being offered a chair, or a soldier’s seat being given up for me. Just because I am a lady, and they, the gentlemen.

More soldiers came. I read their names patched on to their breasts and unconsciously tried to remember as many as I could. There were salutes. Even in detention, rank is respected. Within this level of officers, rank is earned-the hard way, the only way.

There were bursts of laughter from time to time, letting me know that they were making the most of their time together to enjoy each other. Once again, I am struck by a thought. These soldiers, when they are on a mission, one of which they don’t know if they are coming out of-alive, when they are away from their wives and children, they are all the family they have. And I understand them just a little bit more. Their guards assigned them, were respecting their space. And for that, I was thankful.

Pictures were shared with one another. A soldier’s chickens he is trying to nurture and grow, a symbol of his desire to live a simple life. Revelations laid out on the table. A soldier is apparently already a grandfather. Guffaws. Loud pronouncements. Laughter. A solider performs a ‘magic trick’. The others try to figure it out. Life seems to be good. Nothing to give way to a tumultuous past and present event. Until someone from the one-storey building calls out and says, it was time to go inside. Court Martial was about to begin.

The movements were precise, obedient... in military terms – snappy. Within moments, everyone was inside. The lawyers positioned themselves on either side of the Court Martial Panel. On the left side, the prosecution. On the right side, the defense.

I turn my head towards the ‘holding area’. Scaffolding of sorts made to coral the soldiers towards the back. The soldiers were behind these make shift bars. Seated. Back straight. Chin up. Chest out. They knew I was leaving. I lifted a hand and waved weakly, some of them waved back. My heart cracked. It was murmuring to me as I walked out. They didn’t belong in the holding area. They didn’t belong in the detention cells.

They have sworn to a duty and in the performance of that duty did they end up here. Four years. Four years they can never get back. Four years they will never have again with their family.

Before, during, and even after the four years, they will still continue to bear the consequences of the actions they have chosen to take. But this morning, I see no trace of regret. Not a drop.

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Exchanges of the intellectual kind is always healthy. Respect is the key word.