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Getting Back on the Horse

I’ve received so many wonderful emails and notes from folks who have read on the news that my husband Bob is back in Iraq and Afghanistan three years after his injury in Balad from a roadside bomb.  So many people have been so supportive of his desire to go back in honor of those who have served, are serving and who have returned from the wars injured or different.

Many people have asked me “how could you let him go?  Or ” aren’t you nervous?”  When Bob stepped back out into the world after months of healing privately the first question it seemed many wanted to know was “would he go back?”  As I answered questions about whether or not I’d “let” him go back to Iraq, there was a tiny voice inside my head countering my own words.

As Bob dutifully answered no, I knew that somewhere, somehow, knowing Bob, it would be important for him to do so.  The question was when and how.  It was clear he would never again be in a combat situation.  I would never be comfortable with him going back to a warzone.  The danger of even being near a blast could undo some of the amazing healing that his brain has undergone.

All of the years he had spent covering conflicts or wars, putting his life on the line at times to cover a story, those days were over.  And although a part of him still yearns to do that kind of journalism.  I, for one, am very relieved that he will not.

Bob got into his field the back way.  He didn’t set out to be a journalist.  He was and is captivated by history, by current events,other cultures and world conflicts.  Traveling to far-flung places and telling the stories of what is happening there is simply an extension of his love of travel and backpacking into third world places or climbing high peaks. I knew well who I had married 20 years ago.  And after his injuries, I am so happy and relieved to say that very little of the Bob I married has changed.  Especially that part.

It would be easy to imagine that Bob wants to return to Iraq to prove it “didn’t best him” or to say that the insurgents didn’t win.  The Bob I know wants to return to Iraq for many different reasons because it too, has gotten in his blood.  Certainly the fact that he almost lost his life there, that people battled and fought valiantly to save his life on that soil and that there are thousands of Americans there at this very moment putting their lives on the line, makes it an incredibly important story to tell.  No matter how weary Americans seem to have grown of hearing about the war, what your political bent is or how overshadowed the war is by the current economic events, what is happening in Iraq does matter.

I understand Bob’s need to return.  I understand the need to go back to a place where you almost perished and to see it with new eyes.  I understand his desire to get “back on the horse that threw him,” to get the story and to update us on what is happening there from his unique position.  He is further privileged by traveling with Admiral Mullen, the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It’s a big story and a worthy one.

Each night, many spouses in America tuck in their kids, lay their head on the pillow and pray this is not going to be the night the phone rings with news of their loved one in Iraq.   I know that feeling, from the times he was embedded or placed somewhere in a danger zone.  But I didn’t have to live with a year’s worth of these nights– or longer.

I think that to live that way, to go to bed waiting for a phone to ring, to hope against hope that it won’t, is to live a life circumscribed by fear.

I won’t live my life worrying that lightning will strike twice.  I’ve already been reminded just how precious it is.  As Bob says often to meif I worry about safety or danger, “You could step off the curb in Manhattan and get hit by a bus. ” And he is right.  Life is unpredictable.  It’s impossible to script.  In fact it’s perfectly imperfect.

In some ways Bob is most alive when he is in the field covering stories.  And this is the story that almost got the best of him.  I am sure he is feeling a mixture of many emotions while he is there.  And he will feel some very strong ones   when he touches back down on American soil.

I’ve subconsciously waited for this trip to come for almost 2 years now, once I realized he would recover enough to go back to the work he loves. And I’m comfortable with it.  I understand it.  But I’ll also be very, very glad when he is back home with us.

8 Comments

  1. Beth

    July 15, 2009 at 7:03 pm

    Hi Lee,
    I actually saw that he was going on the NYTimes website! I’m so glad you wrote about it. I totally understand your range of emotions and I’m impressed that you shared them with us. I too will pray for a safe return.
    Beth

  2. Liz Weske

    July 15, 2009 at 10:29 pm

    I was wondering your thoughts on it when I saw him on the news – thanks for sharing. I am sure it was a big step for all of you, but very important for him to do. He is lucky you are so supportive- which I guess is what makes your marriage what it is.

  3. Paulette

    July 16, 2009 at 3:23 am

    “Impossible to script, in fact its perfectly imperfect”. Well said 🙂
    You are a strong woman, and I am sure this cant be easy. I will watch the news for his reporting on his trip, and keep up with your comments here, as well. Hopefully, after his first time back, it will get a little easier after his 2nd,3rd, etc. Cause you know there will be more!! 🙂
    I can relate to what you say about loved ones in Iraq, my stepson just got home in June after 1 yr, and yes, we watched the news and hoped we never got that call.
    Just stay home on stormy days so that lightnin dont getcha! And stay away from the curbs and buses in Manhatten!!

  4. Kathy Summers

    July 17, 2009 at 8:30 pm

    Dear Lee,

    I am 65 years old, a mother of 9 children, a grandma of 24 grandchildren. I raise and train therapy dogs and service dogs and live in Kailua, Hawaii.

    I just read your two books and couldn’t put them down. i am so grateful Bob could recover and also for all your honest sharing. You have a dear sense of humor and I can tell you are a wonderful friend to family and others.

    Your books meant so much to me. i want our 6 daughters to read them.

    Love and God bless you always and your dear family.

    Kathy Summers

  5. Erin Merryn

    July 19, 2009 at 9:13 pm

    I remember people asking the questions will Bob ever go back to Iraq after his first major interview from his injuries. I knew just by the look in his face something told me one day we would hear that Bob had returned and sure enough I was watching ABC news and there the story was Bob has returned to Iraq. Look forward to hearing how his trip was.

    Erin

  6. Wilma Schmeler

    July 27, 2009 at 3:13 am

    Very pleased that Bob is back in Iraq. You both are amazing and certainly complement and compliment each other beautifully.
    I did read In An Instant a while ago. Very well written and such a tribute to all of you. Our son, Mark, has listened to both of your books while flying from clinic to clinic to serve our injured soldiers. The books have given him more understanding and insight into TBI’s.
    Loved your article in Parade Magazine a few weeks ago. It was so informative and easy to understand. What a pleasant surprise to see Bob and the twins on the cover. Great photo!!!

  7. Robin Goodfellow

    July 28, 2009 at 11:42 pm

    Lee, your brilliant, honest remarks help us all live with less fear and more zest! I’ve included an essay about you and your handsome guy in my book, Open Your Window of Opportunity (which will be republished this fall as Cherries for the Soul). I want to send you a copy…can you please send a mailing address to robingoodfellow@att.net? Thanks for continuing to speak from your deep store of empathy and courage.

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    January 11, 2010 at 5:28 am

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