Sunday, February 24, 2008

News from the Front

I was at work last week when I heard a newsbrief on the radio, "A helicopter with three U.S. Senators on board made and emergency landing in Afghanistan today..." Without taking a moment to think or breathe, I freaked out. It had to be Joe Biden.

I was aware that Biden was planning a trip to Afghanistan after holding hearings in the Foreign Relations Committee. I met him last year when he was campaigning in Iowa City for his unsuccessful run for the Democratic Presidential nomination. I went to see many candidates, but Biden was the only one I had any confidence in. He's the only one I agreed with on most issues. I went to a few of his events, and when I went to his book signing at Prairie Lights, he must've recognized my face b/c he asked me, "Don't you ever get tired of hearing me talk?" I realize this is what successful politicians do, but it felt nice to be acknowledged.

That's about as intimate of a connection I have with Senator Biden, but when I heard about the helicopter I dropped everything I was working on, tears began to well in my eyes, and I frantically searched for more information on the news websites to see if he was okay. I think it's safe to say that I panicked.

Eventually, I found that it was no big deal, Senators Biden, Hagel, and Kerry had been on a helicopter and had to land due to bad weather. I breathed a sigh of relief and proceeded to feel really really stupid. I pride myself on my ability to be logical rather than emotional. It was weird to feel this sense of panic and sudden burst of emotion in the middle of my work day. Especially for someone like Biden who is a public figure rather than a personal acquaintance. I felt like a dumb girl.

But then I started talking to some friends who actively campaigned before the Iowa caucus. They cried on caucus night because their candidate wasn't viable. They were overcome with emotion after they'd worked so hard and been so involved in their respective campaigns. After speaking with them I realized, this is something unique to Iowans. We end up with a close bond to the candidates we support. Especially those of us who supported candidates like Biden, Richardson, and Edwards - who dropped out b/c they couldn't make their message resonate with voters or in the media over the the distortion of Hillary's cackle or the outbreak of Obama Fever. The Iowa caucus and the process of campaigning can create an illogical emotional tie to someone we hardly know.

So, after I got over the silliness that I actually had tears in my eyes (I never cry!) I started thinking about my reaction a little more in depth. Sure, Iowans may end up with emotional ties to presidential candidates. Maybe that part isn't as weird as I thought. But I thought about that sense of panic when I heard those words... "U.S. Senators... Afghanistan... Emergency landing..." It was a brief, spontaneous, and uncontrollable reaction to the news. And I began to consider how it must feel to be a family member who reacts every time they hear a newsbrief with the words... "U.S. Troops... Iraq... casualties..."

I can't imagine having a loved one fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan. My reaction doesn't even compare to the emptiness that must be felt by those who have family in harm's way - when they hear only numbers of troops injured or dead, and worry that the unreleased names may be someone they love. After my brief panicked reaction last week, I felt a sense of sorrow. We're always reminded to "Support the troops" but it's not often that we're encouraged to consider what their families must go through.

If my brief personal ties to a public figure can inspire a sense of fear and panic with a quick newsbrief, what does a family member go through when there is bad news from Iraq and Afghanistan? It's impossible to put myself in that situation, and my heart goes out to anyone who has a loved one in harm's way.


campbell207 said...

Kathleen, those feelings for Joe Biden are not limited to you lucky Iowans who got to meet him in person! He is such an honest, passionate, smart and funny man and he would have been a credit to the office of President. I will always regret that he was knocked out of the race so early and that I won't get a chance to vote for him.

Like you, I panicked when I heard that Senator Biden's helicopter had made an emergency landing -- but I had not thought to put that feeling in the context of our troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Thanks for making me take the larger and more sympathetic view. I will surely be thinking of their families in a more personal way from now on.

Jon Gold said...

It's been a rough week for people we've got a soft spot for in the news. Check out my post about the Arsenal player who got injured.

david-goodner said...

imagine how the iraqis feel everytime a bomb gets dropped on one of their houses, or their door gets kicked in during the middle of the night and they watch their family members get a black hood tied over their head and whisked off to guanatanamo bay without an explanation.

imagine how the 5 million refugees and internally displaced persons feel...

imagine living your life with no schools, no hospitals, no sanitary water, and no electricity. that's been iraq not just for the last 5 years but for the last 17 years.

Nate said...

But David, that's "progress."

(tongue firmly in cheek)

Kathleen said...

We could play the "imagine how these people feel" game all day long. Iraq was no utopia at any point in their history, nor will it be when our troops are gone.

Jon Gold said...

Of course not, but that doesn't excuse our invasion, nor would it excuse us causing even further misery with our precipitous withdrawal.