I've always been an earlier riser. Part of that is conditioning, years where I had to muster out from under my covers to launch into the wild blue while the sun was still AWOL. It's not always easy, there are days when one just wants to lay there in the quiet, then you realize that all wakefulness consists of getting up sooner or later until you have to lay down for good, sooner than you want to.
Some of it is getting up early to hunt whitetail each fall. Crawling out of the sleeping bag, sometimes on the cold ground, in fortunate corn filled years, on the James farm living room floor, the promise of indoor plumbing and a kitchen with bacon luring me from my flannel cave.
It is still dark as we would leave, and it is only when set up against the base of a tree, with my friend Og as my whitetail Wingman, somewhere to my four oclock - facing the opposite direction. It was then that I see that first crack of light on the horizon, a line so small and delicate in presence as to be a single hair. The world would come to us slowly, in small bits of sound, the crunch of leaves, the chatter of a squirrel, until that moment where the crosshairs went up and my breath ceased in that moment between heartbeat and sound.
It would be dark when we crawled out of bed, myself from the cool warmth of a silk covered spread, Barkley from the warm, puffy Beignet of a dog bed in the corner. I'm a very light sleeper unless coming off of an 18 hour stint, where I would fall into bed with that small death of exhaustion and didn't move for 10 hours, but for my feet twitching, running to the wreckage of a life, there in the dark. Otherwise, I sometimes would awaken in the middle of the night as I heard sounds outside, the bark of a dog in the distance, a car door, my former neighbor the cop, coming home off a late shift. He was quiet, so not to wake his family, but I would still wake up, recognizing the sound of his car before turning and going right back to sleep.
It would be still dark when my eyes would open again, the flutter of an eyelid springing a dog from his bed, as if a switch had been moved. He seemed to know the instant I was awake, perhaps a change in the sound of my breathing, perhaps just a schedule he was used to, but he would be waiting to go out.
People ask, do you carry a firearm because of fear? No, It's not fear, it's awareness, of what stirs in the dark, what quietly walks our streets. Most people, certainly too many young women, are oblivious to it. I was too, until I saw violence up close. It was like someone opened the window, suddenly letting in sound. It doesn't come in all at once, the dull whoosh of the wind, the cry of a hawk, the deep throated huff of an animal out in the dark. Perhaps I'd been aware of the sound all along, but just never really listened to it, the sound being so far beyond my experience and naivety. On those mornings where I would watch Barkley run from the edge of the pond towards me, I realized I had been as obvious to that sound as a flea to the roar of the fur bearing tsunami on which it rides.
As individuals, many of us have experienced it, that moment when evil swipes its paw at us, where even if you walk away unharmed, the slash marks form small scars that may not show, but can be felt with small tracings of fingers, there as you lay safe in your bed in your dark. It brings back memories of that moment, when all you can think is "I don't wish to die" in that inaudible tone of quiet amazement as if it were something that, until you heard the words in your head, you did not truly realize was a possibility, nor the extent or the depth of your desire to forestall it. Yet,
As a nation we felt that, in the wake of 9-11, when those that hate what we stand for struck in the high, fierce slumber of our superiority, when tiny flags flew on legions of automobiles as the nation wept. Those that watched it on the TV felt it, those out in the field experienced it, faces steaming with sweat and blood, breath coming in profound gulps of hot air, not with exhaustion, but with that vehement rage that is terror's aftermath.
Safe in our own world, our nation easily forget the dangers that political correctness instructs us to ignore. We turn on the news and see news of an attack, another roadside bomb, another suicide bomber. I recalled another attack, this one hitting close to home. It was the bombing massacre at the Radisson at Amman, Jordan, where I had just stayed just days prior, my survival not a matter of my fundamental beliefs or willingness to fight back, but simply timing,
Yet I almost hate to turn on some channels to only see another liberal media representative refusing to truly name the threat that faces the world. I agree with James Pavitt "The terrorist organizations are penetrable. I want every one of those SOBs looking over their shoulder." Honor requires difficulty. Keeping this type of terror away from our own shores will be on ongoing battle requiring resources and physical courage that are not limited by our past conceptions of what defines war, nor the mindset that "we can just all get along".
I don't have a TV, but this morning's internet news is full yet another terror plot uncovered as photos from previous attacks play across the TV. As photos of adults carrying the dead from yet another site of collective human failure fill the screen, I am forced to confront a harsher truth - that of all God's creatures, man can be the cruelest. Only man, blessed with the ability to reason, is capable of reasoned hate. Will Durant, the great historian, once said that, "barbarism, like the jungle, does not die out but only retreats behind the barriers that civilization has thrown up against it and waits there always to reclaim that to which civilization has temporarily laid claim." As civilized people, we can think of no cause that justifies the deliberate taking of innocent lives. But as the year's pictures of attack after attack tell me - there are those that do.
I turned away from the screen when I felt the tears well up, and quietly left my safe and warm room. I went out onto the porch, remote below the lightening sky, listening to the audible celestial stillness of stars drifting past. I sat perfectly still in the quiet, watching the ink seep from the sky overhead while in the east all is blood and fiery sky.
As Abby the Lab, quietly leaves her mark on the grass, I sit and trace a scar on my upper ribcage, to the left of my heart. It looks like something took a small, deep bite out of me, and in a way it did. It's a small reminder of how, if we don't watch carefully, the world may take a swipe at us.
I did not swear an oath to my country because I was naive, but because I was, and am, ready to fight for her. I do not carry a weapon because I am afraid. I carry because I am ready, as well, to constitute and assert the irrevocable finality of my refusal to let another innocent be taken.
Today there will be only a moment of respect for those souls that were lost. A moment in which I will look skyward, wishing them peace, as the light vanishes with a soft sigh, driving down for only a moment upon the musty smell of slain flowers, there in a vase. Flowers taken from gardens for so many reasons, for love, for loss, for the dead, now dying themselves. As I look to an uncaring sky, I grieve for the way they left us, as much as the why.
I graduated from the Academy in the last days of summer 2001. It was not a life I would have expected but it was the only life I could live. On that day we charged out into the world, passionate, excited and only days later, damned forever of all peace. In what seemed to us like minutes, we stood with regret and anguish, the despair out of which the quietly mourning, enduring bones stand up that can bear anything.