Again, Dustin said I shouldn’t write this column. Last week, apparently he was right. This week, he is not.
Dustin doesn’t want me to write a follow-up to last week’s Veterans Day column because he doesn’t want me to even acknowledge online commenters or their vitriol. It’s the same reason he didn’t want me to write last week’s column: to save me from that experience.
Dustin’s forgotten that 12 years ago, when I first started writing my newspaper column, he told me to never read comments. So I don’t. I just don’t. Sometimes, however, people send me screenshots: “Sarah, did you see this one?” (Interestingly, people don’t forward the good ones. Only the hateful ones.)
Last week was no different. Yet, some readers — including some friends — who disagreed with my Veterans Day column made reasonable, unemotional points, without attacking my character, and they deserve response.
Since I began writing, I’ve always honored veterans in my Veterans Day column. This year, fearing it would be repetitive and falsely assuming readers had read my other 12 Veterans Day columns, I decided to take a different perspective — that of a military spouse. My biggest regret is that I did not also thank veterans in the column, because I certainly meant to.
But something else was on my heart as I wrote. As we approached Veterans Day, my mind was solely on my friend Theresa, who lost her Navy-pilot husband in a helicopter crash seven weeks ago. I knew people would thank Dustin for his service on Veterans Day. That’s the way it has always been and should be. I knew that Theresa had experienced that with Landon, too. And then I realized that this Veterans Day, her veteran was not here to thank. She would no longer hear, “Thank your husband for his service, please.” So I wanted to thank Theresa for all that her family has lost in service to the country.
That train of thought got me thinking about all the other spouses who have lost loved ones and the spouses of wounded warriors who have uprooted their lives to care for the sick and injured.
Believe me, I was not thinking of myself. My husband has been deployed a handful of times, and now he works at the Pentagon. We have been incredibly fortunate, even though, as with all military families, we have had our share of sacrifices and challenges. I have not been through what Theresa is going through now, and I have not experienced what the spouses of wounded veterans do on a daily basis. They are left with much to shoulder, even though they technically did not take an oath of service. (In some ways, this fact is what amazes me all the more.)
When I think of these spouses who have lost so much due their their loved one’s duty to the country, I cannot help but think they deserve some thanks for supporting a veteran. They are not veterans, but they certainly have been the support system for one.
My mistake in last week’s column was my tone. It came across whiney and with a hint of “that’s not fair.” I apologize for that. Yet, honestly, when I talk to Theresa and think about her circumstances, lately I struggle with the urge to scream, “That’s not fair!”
My other mistake was the column title. I wrote the first instance of “military-spouse ‘veterans’” in quotation marks for a reason. I don’t actually believe that spouses are true veterans. Nor do I think Veterans Day is for or about them. But I do believe it’s appropriate to thank people like Theresa today and every day.
Interestingly, I had planned to use today’s column to address Tom Cruise’s assertion that filming a movie overseas is like being deployed to Afghanistan. I already wrote about Cruise’s comments on Huffington Post, but I wasn’t done with him yet.
Then, after my column and the reaction last week, I paused to reflect. Wouldn’t the world be better if we stopped to give people the benefit of the doubt? How do I know what Cruise really said? How do I know for sure he doesn’t know what a deployment is like? How do I know what his life is like? How can I hate someone that I don’t even know? How can I judge the character of a person I’ve never met? Aren’t I aware that Cruise is a human being, and although he makes mistakes, he is a person with feelings and a family?
Trust me, people who hate me will still respond negatively to this column. While my hope is that they use this as a springboard for honest discussion, they will call me “disgusting,” “self-centered,” and “miserable.” But I won’t read it or see it.
Each week, for 12 years, I’ve dared to put my real name and face next to my words. I can’t take seriously any commenter who isn’t willing to do the same.
So, if you are a friend, please only send the comments from authors who identify themselves, and with content that adds to the informed discussion about what it means to be a veteran, a military family, or, even, civil.
Maine author and columnist Sarah Smiley’s writing is syndicated weekly to publications across the country. She and her husband, Dustin, live with their three sons in Bangor. She may be reached at www.Facebook.com/Sarah.is.Smiley.