Megan pulled a three-ring binder out of her bag and showed me a photograph of herself and her husband. Young — they’re both 21 — with big smiles on their faces, and obviously wildly in love. “That’s what he looked like,” she said with a somber face, “He was such a cutie-pie, always buying me little stuffed animals and writing the most thoughtful notes the entire time he was in Iraq.” Then she showed me the photo of her husband receiving the Purple Heart on Wednesday from President Bush at Bethesda Naval Medical Center. As President Bush pinned the medal on Mike as he lay unconscious in the ICU, having suffered a traumatic brain injury caused by a piece of shrapnel that pierced his right eye.
“This is my Mike now,” she said, rubbing her eyes. He is completely blind and to alleviate a terrible cranial pressure build-up, doctors had to remove the front of his skull. Since being wounded several months ago, Mike has never regained consciousness and suffers from terrible terrible spasms that make his entire body seize up on itself. “That’s my guy,” she repeated, before she went on to tell me about how they met and fell in love.
As I met Megan, I kept thinking about the fact that some person somewhere carefully assembled the IED that would eventually maim Mike and many others. They are often packed with nails, hunks of lead, and screws to cause maxim human suffering. When they explode, the contents rip through flesh and bones, shattering countless dreams in the process.
How can we comprehend this level of evil, and the physical and emotional agony it causes? This young woman and her husband should be out buying their first Christmas tree together, going to parties, and raising a glass to their future. When I asked what she was doing for the holiday she said, “I’ll be here with Mike. I would never want him to be alone on Christmas.” They had been married for about three months when Mike was wounded. In these days before Christmas, Megan and other military wives and moms gave me a precious gift. They reminded me that true love requires sacrifice — sometimes seemingly unbearable, heart-wrenching sacrifice. They are living out their love in big and small ways. Many have moved thousands of miles to relocate to the hospitals where their husbands, wives, sons, and daughters are being treated. This takes an enormous emotional and financial toll, yet they do it for love. When they are not at the hospital bedsides of their wounded warriors, they sit for hours a day in waiting rooms across the United States, hoping for good news — or at least hoping to be spared more bad news. They pray with each other, cry with each other, and yes, even manage to laugh with each other as they hope for a day when they can return to “normal life.” Yet the families of our most seriously injured troops know they face a “new normal,” one that is much different from the normal life they knew before.
As we are about to celebrate Christmas spending time with our families and friends, let us all do our best to live up to the true spirit of this season — and to make it a time filled with love, faith, gratitude, hope, charity, and… yes, let’s try for some peace on earth. Let’s also remember the military families and our wounded heroes, who will spend this Christmas at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Brooke Army Medical Center, Bethesda Naval Medical Center, and other medical facilities across the nation. As we rush anxiously around because we “haven’t found the perfect gift” for so-and-so, these families hope and pray for gifts that cannot be put under a tree: a hand that squeezes back, a smile, the first step on a new prosthesis, or a positive medical report.
They need our prayers and support at Christmas and every day. Please give what you can to any of the wonderful organizations that support our bravest and their families.