Two images linger in my mind from the past week or so.
One is of a desperate man handing an infant up to the outstretched hands of a U.S. Marine guarding the wall at the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan.
The other is of another Marine, 23-year-old Nicole Gee, cradling a baby at the airport. She posted the photo on Instagram and wrote, “I love my job.” A week later she would be dead, one of 13 U.S. troops killed by suicide bombers.
It was an awful thing, the evacuation of Afghanistan. The television news was full of sights and sounds that would haunt anyone with a conscience for the rest of their lives. It is impossible to imagine what it was like for those on the ground, our soldiers, our sons and daughters, sisters and brothers. Our children, all of them.
War is a horrible thing. Always. I don’t know how people can forget that or overlook it. There are those who now bemoan the evacuation of U.S. troops from Afghanistan as proof that we have made a mistake.
I don’t know where they were while soldiers were dying for the past 20 years and returned home physically and mentally damaged. They did their duty. They paid the price. We watched on the TV news or, more than likely, got bored and focused our attention on other things.
I think of those Marines, the two with the infants, trying to salvage something good out of that mess. I think of their humanity and it makes me proud. It is simply awe-inspiring.
To see that Marine lifting an infant over a wall topped by barbed wire as he looks down at hundreds of Afghans pleading for their lives, to see him handing that baby to another soldier for safekeeping, makes me believe there is hope for us all.
To read the words of Sgt. Gee, “I love my job,” and look at her photo knowing what the future holds for her, well, there really aren’t words adequate to properly express the emotions. She was indeed the best of us.
I know for every such image of humanity there are hundreds, thousands of others that are horrible, depressing, terrifying. And it will continue. We want to turn away. Turn off the TV. Move on.
And we will move on with our lives. The nation will continue, divided by political disputes over just about everything, from vaccinations to wearing masks. People will laugh, celebrate birthdays, get married and have babies. That is the way of things.
The graveyards are full of irreplaceable people.
We will go to war again because, it will be said, the killing must be done to protect our Homeland or our allies.
Whatever lessons we have learned will be lost, forgotten, because that is simply the way things have always been.
But for now, for me, I want to focus for just a moment on those two Marines who found it within themselves, surrounded by fear and tragedy, to represent the rest of us in the best way possible.
“I love my job,” Nicole Gee texted, surrounded by the chaos, the panic, the daily grind of hearing people plead for their lives.
We put her where she was, along with all the others in harm’s way. It was our decision. That is what it means to be a citizen in a democratic country. You must take responsibility for everything, good and bad. Well, you should, anyway.
Two U.S. Marines playing out the final scenes in a war that went terribly wrong, in a place with a future so bleak that the two sides fighting for control, the Taliban and ISIS-K, are in a race to eradicate anyone who would dare voice a word of protest or speak the word “freedom.”
That is why terrified parents were willing to hand their babies to soldiers from a foreign land.
“I love my job,” said a Marine holding a baby, not a gun. I am humbled and grateful. She was the best of us.