I understand why we drag this poor mother before of an arena full of Bulls fans and give her the shock of a lifetime: her son, gone to war, now home, safe. It'd bring a tear to a glass eye.
Obviously this moment, and others like it, happen with the cooperation of the returning soldier or sailor or marine or officer. When Dad shows up at halftime, he's in on the ruse. He's sharing this most personal reunion with the world at large. From his perspective, I imagine, it's a chance to enlist the crowd to cheer for his wife and kids. That's raw appreciation, and for the kids especially, dang, it must be nice to know thousands of strangers respect you and your dad so much.
These public reunions have such staying power, I expect, because the rest of us suckers feel like we're a part of this bonhomie, maybe even in a way we didn't feel connected to the venal politics that got us into Iraq. If you felt helpless as the bodies piled up, or as your personal share of the past dozen years of war went north of 20 grand, or as families and friends were shipped off to theaters of war and blown up, or as hospitals filled up with hale men missing limbs or faces or minds, then here's your chance. Yell about it. Get loud, and show your support. Or watch it on YouTube and have a furtive desk cry. We're all in this together, after all. Also, go Bulls.
But we didn't earn these reunion moments. They're not yours and they're not mine. Nor, for all the vicarious warmth we feel blasting off of it, do they absolve us. Lots of Americans don't come home. Lots of Iraqis and Afghans don't, either. We know it's bad for military families, and we know we'll never understand, really, just how bad. We get just a glimpse of that catharsis when we watch wives and mothers and children literally crumple when their soldier appears.
We feel that vicarious joy. Here's a person afflicted with worry and longing and pain suddenly reunited with her beating heart. Such relief! My own two brothers did a total of three tours in Afghanistan and Qatar, and during those months my parents and I were consigned to that limbo where every casualty on the news, every bomb and every body, arrives as there-but-for-the-grace-of-God. You lower your head for the dead and on the same breath give thanks that it was someone else's brother this time. When they get home, an entire category of fear falls out of your daily life. In that way, war stops being personal.
What it's like for kids to wait for their parents, I have no idea. Maybe a big stadium hoo-rah is a fitting reward for the months of limbo. But if the people applauding our servicemen and -women really want to help out? Don't back any more bullshit wars.