Friday, July 13, 2007

As my heart breaks

My heart is breaking. A million reasons for not blogging lately (too many topics, too much anger) but truly no excuse.

Today the horrible, unnecessary, ugly war in Iraq hit home in the WalMart parking lot here in Belen(istan). La Luz, my caregiver, was pushing the basket and loading the car with groceries while the WalMart greeter followed my slow progress in the little electric wheelchair and was helping me into the car. What do you talk about with a total stranger who is younger than your granddaughter? We talked about the weather, how hot it is and (I just couldn’t resist) how much hotter it will become once Americans realize that global warming is real and here to stay.

The girl said that she'd heard about global warming and she hated it. Her fiancé had recently died of heat stroke in Iraq. It took my breath away! This smiling bit of a girl was back to work just a week after the funeral I’d watched from my kitchen window as it left Our Lady of Belen Church, streaming past my house as it headed toward I-25 and the military cemetery up in Santa Fe.

I’d actually heard about his death from my friend "T" before it was announced in our little semi-weekly throw away paper. "T" knew the family and had told me that his core body temperature had been 130 degrees, a fact I’ve yet to read on line or elsewhere. But here are the facts as I know them:

PFC Henry G. Byrd III, age 20 of Veguita, New Mexico died in late June in Germany from “illness” contracted while in Iraq. He had been standing guard near a tank being repaired at the side of a road and collapsed from the heat. His body temperature was at least 109 degrees as he was flown to Germany and all his major organs and body functions shut down. And no one noticed him lying there.

How can this happen? Where were his comrades? His water? How much armor was he wearing? Too many questions – no answers.

All I could do standing in the heat between the wheelchair and the car was hug her, a simple girl, a total stranger. As she helped me into the car she lifted my necklace in a very feminine and personal gesture, examining the talismans I always wear: the Hand of Fatima, the Masha’Allah, the carnelian carved with “Muhammad Rasul Allah”, the blue “eye bead”. She looked me in the eye and tilted her head; the question unasked. But I offered: “Yes, I am Muslim and I absolutely hate this war with its 3611 American service people dead as of yesterday and the Iraq number untold.” She smiled kindly and said that she also hated that we were fighting the wrong war in the wrong country, but took comfort that her fiancé had died doing what he loved best, working on tanks and serving his country. I checked my tears and hugged her a second time and she helped me into the passenger seat.

I feel devastated. I’ve lost acquaintances to terror: from Alex Odeh in the early ‘80s in the Orange County explosion of the ADC offices and Mustapha Akkad a year or so ago in the hotel bombing in Amman, Jordan. And I worry every day about folks I’ve met on line. No word from Riverbend ( or the guys at in months. But this was in my own back yard.

I’ll blog on the ills of this administration/regime and its failures and crimes another day. Today I just have to think abut this young man, his fiancée, and feel my feelings.