Wednesday, November 14, 2007

 

A Moment of Awakening

Greyhawk posts another of his thoughtful and evocative ruminations at

Mudville Gazette. Read the whole thing for several reasons, but I was immediately struck by his description of walking on gravel:

In the Gardens of Stone

So I'm walking to the gym. Under my feet: four inches of gravel pave the way. When the rains come that will be better than mucking through the sort of muddy paste that the sands of Iraq become when mixed with the slightest bit of water, but in the dry season (and it hasn't really rained here since May) it's just another feature. You want to experience some aspect of life in the camps in Iraq? Find an area with four inches of gravel on the ground (shallower gravel doesn't count - you don't get the full effect) and walk around in it for a half hour or so. Repeat several times a day, sometimes carrying something heavy. Do it every day for a year, then do it for three more months...

But I digress. So I'm walking to the gym. Under my feet: four inches of gravel pave the way. Concrete t-wall sections form unbroken fortress walls on either side of my path. They are a relatively new feature; at least, we didn't have them in any significant number on my last trip here. Then we lived in tents, with sandbags stacked knee-high around them. Hypothetically these would afford us some protection from shrapnel should the odd mortar or rocket detonate nearby - or close enough to send the shrapnel flying but far enough to spare us death in the initial blast. Back then politicians in the States were screaming hysterically about armor and how we didn't have enough, but their utter ignorance of conditions in the real Iraq meant they missed an even greater vulnerability. Perhaps they were blinded by the flash of cameras. Or perhaps the fact that large concrete walls can't easily be manufactured in the home district by voters working hard for donors and then shipped overseas led them to establish other priorities. Anyhow, too late now. Even though things weren't perfectly exactly right upon our arrival in Iraq we rather quietly made those particular improvements without congressional histrionics to spur us on. The walls are up and our camps are thoroughly sub-divided into blast-containment areas and we can all sleep a little more soundly at night - or day, or whenever we get the chance to sleep. And home front ignorance of the real Iraq has certainly caused more significant problems then that one...

And oh by the way, Greyhawk reminds us that

We've won the war.

Folks thought I was a bit bold (other adjectives may apply) for saying that on October 6. After all, the BBC wouldn't acknowledge the possibility until last week...

Greyhawk gets lots of credit in my book for being the first to call it won, now that even the Associated Press and the NYT can’t ignore the signs of victory.

All good. But he’s got me stuck somewhere back in time, just 2 years ago, when I was walking on all those stones and sharing the same experience:

Back in the Garden of Stones

But I digress. So I'm walking to the gym. Under my feet: four inches of gravel pave the way. Concrete t-wall sections form unbroken fortress walls on either side of my path. It's early in the morning, so the shadow of the wall on my left is shading that half of the road. A breeze is blowing, and in the shade in the moments just after dawn that breeze hits me in my shorts and t-shirt and chills me just enough that I take a few steps sideways and into the sun.

And then it hit me - I'd been walking in the shade because that's what I - and everyone else here - had done throughout the 120 degree summer and on into the merely 90 degree days of early fall. And while the change has been gradual, it was only today that I noticed it, as I broke a time-worn habit and passed from the too-cool shadows into the glowing warmth of the morning desert sun.

I remember walking on gravel more clearly than anything else.

It is an attempt at firmness, controlling the uncontrollable. Every step shifts, there is more effort in every stride, and it wearies you the longer you walk on it.

But it does allow forward motion, however aggravating and tiring. It beats the alternative of Iraqi clay that can become muck at those rare times of rain. I suppose.

We who walked upon it will remember it always. I was happier to walk on honest asphalt than any other physical experience, back home.

A fitting symbol of our service, our sacrifice, and yes, our victory in Iraq.

That change of season, I remember, too. I wrote about it here, reprinted here.

A faint stirring of excitement, perhaps unnoticed at the time.

A moment of awakening, to be sure. An eye-blinking, sudden consciousness, after a too long season of numbness, walking slumber, a kind of deadening. Breeze brings hope. Like a mirror of what takes place throughout the barren landscape: the oppressive heat lifts, then cooler nights, and eventually a chill, cold rain, but just now only a harbinger of mission end. You wait so long for any change in season, that any change must mark a milestone.

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