Guilty relief

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Annie McCabe’s husband is home from Iraq, but she can’t stop thinking of Iraqi families

My husband recently returned home from a 16-month deployment to Afghanistan with the Minnesota National Guard. As I looked forward to his return, I was warned by other military families that the relief I was expecting would be strongly tempered with guilt. No one deludes themselves. One family sleeps better because another family is sleeping worse.

While Chris was gone, I was very active in the peace community, working closely with Military Families Speak Out, speaking at rallies, attending every protest for as long as my toddler could take it. Waiting for him to come home, I worried that without the overriding daily fear, I would slip into the complacency of most Americans. I would talk back to the radio, and complain bitterly about the current administration, but do nothing to change the situation. But this guilt is powerful, and it isn’t just for other American families. Thoughts of the families in Iraq keep my peace work going.

As overpowering as the fear and worry were for me while he was gone, I cannot imagine the lives of my Baghdad counterparts. I worried only about Chris. He was the only one in harm’s way. My son, Tucker, and I, my sister and brother, all my other family and friends, were safe. Tucker and I could go to the grocery store, and there would be no explosions. I worried about Army chaplains at my door, but never needed to worry about soldiers coming into our house. Tucker wasn’t going to be hit by crossfire when he was out playing. If Chris were to die, I would know how and where. He wouldn’t just disappear. My environment isn’t filled with depleted uranium-I don’t worry about its effects on Tucker’s development, about the health of my future children (although families with troops in Iraq do rightfully worry). We had food, water and electricity, as much as we wanted, whenever we wanted.

During the deployment, I would remind myself of my relative luck. I knew I had a finish line. Chris might have died, or had his deployment extended, but this period of constant fear was going to end. Women in Baghdad don’t have that luxury. Millions of Iraqis are dead, homeless or in exile because of this war; the numbers grow daily. There are countless women, making their way though each day, trying to keep their families going, with no way of knowing if this will end.

My husband is home, safe, and for that I’m profoundly grateful. But thoughts of Iraqi women rarely leave me. I needn’t have worried about complacency. I only wish I could spur the rest of America to the same sense of urgency.

Annie McCabe encourages all women to contact their elected representatives by phone, email, or by sitting vigil in their offices. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband and their son.