Monday, January 2, 2012

Why I write: I have promises to keep

When I told a friend I was considering writing on this topic, his response was "tell them Brat's story, who you are." Uh, no. Not so much. Why and what I write here is not about who I am. It is not about me. (Well, not often!) However, there is a short answer, and more than a few long answers, as to why I do what I do on this site. This column is part of a never-ending process I go through, examing why I write. Helps to keep me honest, and on mission. If you are not interested in a self indulgence from da Brat, here's a tip: Hit the 'Esc" button on your keyboard.

Christopher Hitchens, the world famous fabulous writer - and atheist - who died recently, once said:

Being a writer is what I am. Not what I do.

So it is for me. I have been a writer since I was little, never dreaming that writing would become who I am, not just a job, a paychecque. I first became fully aware of writer as my identity, not merely my occupation, when my then kindergarten-aged child introduced me to one of her classmate's mums: "This is my mum. She's a writer."

Yes, I am a writer, and yes, I am blessed to be able to write about people - and things - that matter to me, without a supervising editor assigning me stories that others consider newsworthy.

Before I ever became "qualified" as a journalist, with formal 'training' in what was once considered an honourable profession, I had written for a few msm outlets, on many different topics. I remember the first time I saw my byline in a major newspaper - and got paid for doing what has always come naturally for me: writing. I was hooked; hooked on telling other people's stories, and that is why I went back to journalism school, believing as I did, that I needed that bit of paper to validate what I love to do: use my writing, my heart, to share other people's stories. Uhuh. I like to say that they graduated me just so I wouldn't keep returning...Let's just say, I was not the most 'pliable' student, as the teachers failed miserably in moulding this argumentative student into a 'real' journalist. (Yep, I proudly claim the title of UNjournalist, one of the few labels given to me that I accept!)

But everything for a reason, and I was led on what - for some in the journalism business - would be considered an unconventional path. It IS an amazing path and I kept writing - I had to write - with no idea where my love of sharing others' stories would lead me.

Assoluta Tranquillita as a forum for my unashamedly pro-Military writing only came into existence because of a stubborn friend who insisted I needed to have my own site. At that time, I had been a contributor on a US Milblog - Tanker Bros - while they were deployed in Iraq. When I first discovered TB and became a casual reader of theirs, I had NO idea what a Milbog was, (really, I was totally clueless!) but when the Tanker Bros - yes, they are real people, real brothers - announced that they were going back to Iraq, I volunteered to be 'backroom support' for their blog while they were away serving their country. Fifteen months later, upon the Tanker Brothers return to America, I figured I was done writing about the Military. I had done my own 'deployment,' and was convinced the internet was already far too noisy a place, and did not need my less than knowledgable voice added to the crowd. I was more than willing to go back to my other writing. Honest! I had lots to write about, and no intention of joining the Milblog community in my own right, full-time. HA!

Apart from everything else, I really was (am) technically challenged and have no idea how to set up a site. That was to be my final 'gotcha' offered as to why I couldn't possibly start my own site. Topic closed, or so I thought! Not the end of the matter, however, as this stubborn friend (you know who you are) immediately offered to do the set up for me. She has the skills. Basically, she had me in a corner, and I finally agreed, albeit not so graciously!

Here we are these years later, and I must confess that some of that friend's words have been proven true. She had said: Trust me, you need your own space. And so it has come to be, as I write about our Troops and their families, and the amazing things they do, and the challenges they overcome, in a way that apparently only other Milbloggers see fit to consistently report. Rarely does the msm give column inches to the Every Day Heroes who selflessly do extraordinary deeds in service to their respective countries.

THIS was my first column on this site on June 10, 2008:

"Silence is the mother of truth."

That column garnered a few comments, and a couple of them still resonate today. Both were from Military men. Go figure:

while I welcome your topic of silence, I look forward to you joining in by making some NOISE! While silence and statement both become means of grace at the right time, silence at the wrong time can become complicity - not confronting the untruth we discover in the world.

And there was this:

The words will come, and fill the silence.

And yes, the words DO come. Yes, I DO make noise from time to time.

I have found that I cannot remain silent and be complicit in the face of all that is going on in the world. I cannot ignore the truths I see, that the msm usually ignores, so I write. The words I often use? They sometimes come from the hearts of the many Military Families I have come to know and love: Blue Star, Silver Star, and yes, Gold Star Families. I am sometimes given permission to share their words, their views of the state of the world, which their loved ones serve/d, and for which, all too often, their loved ones have given the ultimate sacrifice: their lives, their futures.

So the short answer to the question I ask myself often? Because I made a promise. I made a promise to this Fallen Hero, and his family:

The Stokely Family

I write in honour of Fallen Hero SGT Patrick Tainsh and his family:

I write, because Fallen Heroes like SGT Eddie Jeffers volunteered to serve their country. Eddie was also a fantastic Warrior/Writer, and his insights, the wisdom in his words will live on forever.

Another Gold Star Mom who keeps me writing is Mickey, proud Mom of Fallen Hero SSG Jason Arnette.

Jason Arnette

The list of those who drive me on, keep me writing, is long.

I was privileged to share Fallen Hero SGT John Rode, as told through the words of his aunt Cat Brooks:

I never met any of these Heroes while they were here on Earth, but I have come to know them, as their loved ones have told me about them and given me permission to share their lives with my readers. These Heroes, and their families, are not just numbers. They are our best who loved life, who lived incredible lives of service.

Another Gold Star Family who propel me on is Deborah May and her kids, family of SSG Donald May. Yes, I am a member of Team May. Canadian Fallen Hero Cpl James Arnal's Mom Wendy is an extraordinary woman, who shared her story of going to Afghanistan to serve as a civilian for six months in the very place her son gave his all. Her example is always an inspiration to me.

(Cpl Arnal's mother Wendy and brother Andrew besides James' plaque in Afghanistan. This was taken on a prior visit to Afghanistan, before Wendy returned to work there.)

Wendy's words give us an appreciation of her son James, and on those days when I just want to crawl in a ball, and quit writing, I remind myself how extraordinary women like Wendy get up every single day, and keep pushing on, to honour their loved ones.

The Gold Star Families are a huge reason I write. Some will never know I have written about their loved ones, but others have become friends. They are all why I write.

Through my writing here, I have come to know of and love Heroes who wore a uniform other than Military as they served their country. The picture on my sidebar of Keith doesn't even come close to telling of the life of this 9/11 EMT who was one of those we lost that day, as he worked to save others. Keith's mom and dad, Diane and Ken, who I initially interviewed for a 9/11 tribute profile of Keith, have become dear friends to me, and although they don't know it, they do inspire me - often - as they continue their own service to America.

Regular readers have come to know many of these Heroes, these families through their own words. Little did I know when I wrote my first column 'Silence' here, of the people I would come to know, the unsung Heroes who unknowingly give me a metaphorical kick in the rear on those days when I think I'll just shut down this site, and go back to my other writing, which is gathering dust on the backburner. But a promise is a promise, and I keep writing here, through the grace and generosity of these families, and so many more, who open their hearts to me.

My promise was tested this last October, and I came closer than ever to quitting this site, totally unconvinced that whatever I do here makes any difference to our world.

On October 13, SSG Brian Cowdrey - beloved husband, father, son, brother - gave his life in service to America in the fight for freedom, so other families in a war zone miles from his home could know the taste of freedom long denied them by murderous terrorists.

Yes, I hurt every time we have lost a Hero, and my heart always aches for their families. Brian was a friend to many, and when he died, again I found myself asking "what is the point of what I do?" From where I sat, there was no point at all, and I seriously considered over many days silencing this site. Compared to the contribution Brian, all our Fallen Heroes, all our Troops serving right this minute in war zones, make every day in so many lives, I figured nobody would notice if I just shut down, since my work doesn't come close to the price our Heroes pay. I was finally ready to put down my pen, if you will.

As the days passed, I looked to my silence where, as I wrote in that first column, I find my truths, and I prayed - a lot.

I remembered this picture of Brian - one of my favourites of him as Healer, Life-Saver:

February 2010 during Operation Moshtarak - Brian providing aid to wounded Medic Casey Morrison. (Brian said on his FB page at the time he shared this picture: This photo was taken by an AP embed named Brenan Lindsley... if there was ever a guy who could capture those telling moments it was him! Thank you Brenan for sharing our story!!)
I remembered talking to Brian about his work. He spoke always with passion about his chosen field of service to America, even as he acknowledged to me that he didn't always know the outcome of those wounded who he evacuated from the battlefield.

As I was debating with myself what day I would shut down, I thought about that aspect of Brian's work. I watched as those he had worked alongside wrote of their love and respect for him, and how the work they continue honours him and his sacrifice every day.

I thought about the EMS 'peeps' I have come to know who, having survived 9/11, still put on their uniforms every single day, as they serve their communities.

I thought about the words of a Veteran whose wisdom shone through the answer he gave me when I asked him "How do you keep going in battle after the losses?" He did not know that day how much his perspective helped me refocus on my mission here.

His words that day, and the gentle support of those who, over the years have stood together with me as we honour our Fallen Heroes, as we support ALL our Military Families, gave me pause. Through the hours of solitude I sought on my beach (yes, my Church) I kept hearing "You made a promise." I thought of all those who trust me with their loved ones, and with their own hearts: The Blue Star, the Silver Star and the Gold Star Families.

These families do not have the option of quitting. That is not part of their reality. It was this truth that finally got through to me. I realised how selfish I am - how lucky I am - to be able to even think about stepping away from what I do here. I thought of our active duty Troops who, still fighting in the sandbox, even as they grieve the loss of a brother in arms, don't have the option of saying "I quit." I thought of the Gold Star Families and 9/11 families who, even on their worst days, get up and face the reality of life without their loved ones.

I also remembered the Eleanor Roosevelt WarTime Prayer:
Dear Lord, Lest I continue My complacent way, Help me to remember that somewhere, Somehow out there A man died for me today. As long as there be war, I then must Ask and answer Am I worth dying for?

As my longtime readers know, this is a question I have pondered many times over my years of writing about our Hero Warriors and their families. And yes, it seems I will always ask myself that question.

Most of all, I kept hearing: You made a promise.

What was that promise?

I remember very well a long while back telling my friend Robert, proud dad of Fallen Hero Mike Stokely:

As long as I breath, I promise you that Mike and all our Heroes will be remembered; they WILL be honoured.

Unlike our Veterans; unlike our active duty Troops, and their families; unlike our Fallen Heroes' Families who each must know that their service and sacrifice have changed our world for the better; unlike our 9/11 families, and all the EMS who saved so many lives on 9/11 as they faced the worst of humanity, I may never know if my small voice from the corner of nowhere, on this site, makes any difference at all. I cannot know. I may never know if what I do makes me worthy of the service and sacrifice of our Military.

I do know that I am still breathing, so I will keep writing here, still trying to be worthy. I fully intend that when my Day of Judgement comes, I will be able to stand before my God and say: I kept my promise.

As Robert Frost wrote so many years ago:

I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.

And so it is. And I write on.


Marilyn Pfaff said...

Thank you, Brat. Just ..... thank you ~~

Kriste said...

"Being a writer is what I am. Not what I do."

I remember the day I realized that. It was about 4 years ago. I had a few boot prints on my butt in regards to "taking my writing seriously" and had therefore ventured into sharing it in online formats. I had a few tears of angst and self-doubt on my cheeks. A trusted friend looked at me sitting there on his couch and said, "All great writers will tell you, 'I can't not write.' What makes your stories special? Unique? They are told from your perspective. If you have days when you can't write them, then write grocery lists, write anything. Just. Write."

Like you, I pay tribute to our Sheep Dogs. But having been raised by a pack of Sheep Dogs, I do so primarily through my own memoirs. It often leaves me feeling terribly exposed and vulnerable and as a result, I'll go quiet and regroup in between periods of productivity.

You should see my grocery lists; darned if they aren't detailed. Seriously. Not having a car, a couple of the Joes I've adopted often offer to stop by the store on their way over. I've been told my lists read like a dang Op Order. ;-)

Thank you so much for what you do; and many thanks to you and the rest of the milkooks for welcoming me so warmly into the fold.

Terri Rager-Campbell said...

Well, I don't know who your stubborn friend is but I'm glad you listened to her...on this count at least :-)

You do a great service to our troops and their families, Brat, and you do it with such caring and passion, which is the way it should be done.

I love you, my friend, and am thankful that you are a promise keeper. You are needed.

"Lest they be forgotten"

Anonymous said...

Hi Brat,
We go back a long way, on the web anyway, back to the first Tanker Brothers fast. Could you believe we could keep up a fast for a year?! It is amazing, and sad, we are many years older, and our troops are still fighting. I thank God for them, and for people like you. Thank you for your soul searching. Thank you for the honor you give to the troops. And thank you for using the gift of writing God gave you to speak truth. I know you did not write this post to invite praise. That is so far from your nature. But I have been quiet lately, not as active posting as the Tanker Bros days, so I want you to know my love and respect for our troops has not waivered, and your writing and fierce desire to tell their stories has been so appreciated. Thank you. God bless you.
Donna, Los Osos, CA

Susan Duclos said...

You have kept that promise and we are all grateful for that.

Men N Pause said...

Thank you need not worry about keeping your promise for like the writer, the promise is also who you are and you fulfil that promise every day just by being. You make a difference and it is all positive in nature and I am blessed to be honoured to call you friend....

K-Dubyah said...

Hmm, you were one of the ones I turned to for information when I first entered this unknown world so few years ago, and even more so now...

You *know* how blessed I feel in regards to your friendship. Who knew that such love for a older sister would develop betwixt us?

I've no doubt that your promises are always kept unlike those uttered in the world of politics.

"Thank YOU" doesn't even begin to cover what you do for Our Guys.

Much love Dahling Brat, much love...

Mickey Arnette Bryant said...

Thank you for you Promise! ‎((((((((((A-BRAT))))))))) You too, are one of my favorite HEROS. I couldn't begin in written word what you mean to me. My heart over flows with love and gratitude. ♥ You have help me heal the hole in my heart. ♥

Anonymous said...


I just got back from Mike's grave, taking down the Christmas wreath, changing the flowers on his grave marker and getting it spruced up for the New Year. As I stood there reading his marker for the millionth time, I vowed to never forget what he gave; to never let his grave go unattended; and to always love him as deeply as I did when he was alive. Thank you for your promise and for continuing to keep it, for in remembering, you Honor Mike and all those like him. For Mike it is important when someone like you remembers him. When Mike gave his life, he gave the lives of all the future generations of his lineage not yet born, and now never will, for he had no children. He, they, were all in for freedom and America, and a world to have a hope of peace. Unless you and others remember him, who will. They say no person truly dies until the last person who knows them dies. You and those like you who Remember with Honor my son Mike and those like him bring tears to my eyes and a comfort to my broken heart. Thank you.

Robert Stokely
proud dad SGT Mike Stokely
KIA 16 Aug 05 near Yusufiyah Iraq

Deborah May said...

TEAM MAY! I love it! Thanks for including us when talking about the Gold Star families. It's nice to be somewhere so full of love. Hugs to you, ma'am. :)

jck said...

Thank you...
And if your writing was not enough to mist me up, these comments are causing a tissue shortage...
Thank you for all you do, Brat... Your words resonate with truth and honor.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for keeping us informed, even when we didn't know we needed it. Love you cjbsrn