Last week I decided, on the spur of the moment, to travel with my mother to Crawford, Texas to join Cindy Sheehan at her vigil. I'll never forget what I saw there. Hundreds of people converged from all over the US, bustling about Camp Casey, each doing their part to help. Some directed incoming cars, some made signs to hang on the enormous tent (which was recently used for a Bush fundraiser). Others worked the phones or posted on their blogs. The volunteer kitchen staff prepared the evening's meal, which included buffalo stew donated by a rancher from just down the road.
As soon as I stepped out of the car and into the sweltering camp, someone handed me a cold bottle of water, then crossed the road and made sure the counter-demonstrating Bush supporters had ample hydration too. I was amazed by this gesture of generosity and concern.
Like my mother and me, everyone there simply felt they had to be there, each wanting to help in whatever way possible. Later in the afternoon, I met a 17-year-old from rural Minnesota who had never been on a commercial airplane until he and his dad took the flight to Texas. I met soldiers, just back from the war, who barely had time to visit their families at home before coming to join Cindy.
Everyone chipped in at Camp Casey, so I volunteered for security from midnight until 2:00AM Wearing an orange vest, I walked up and down the dusty road for a couple hours, stopping occasionally to eat hot dogs with a bartender down from Dallas for the night. When my shift was over, I joined a small group of night owls hanging out under the tent. Ten minutes after I sat down, Cindy came slowly out of her trailer and announced she couldn't sleep. She sat with us and talked until 6:00AM She told stories about how kind and loving Casey was and about how he tried to join the military as a chaplain but that didn't work out. She chuckled about the latest rumors being tossed around about her by the news media: 'Apparently they're saying I'm a lesbian now, which is fine, except that I'm not.' It was inspiring to see how such a normal woman, just like anybody you might meet on the street, could make such a difference in the world by honoring the grief she feels for her lost son.
The next morning I awoke in my sauna of a tent to the sound of trucks rumbling. Looking out I saw CNN, Fox, NBC, and many other news teams setting up. The news conference was about to begin. I raced past the rows and rows of white crosses, each bearing the name of a soldier killed in the war. Most of them were between my brother's age (23) and mine (19) when they died. I thought, 'How lucky am I, living a comfortable life, while they fight and die?'
I arrived at the chaos of cameras, microphones, journalists and producers in time to see a few of the other mothers of soldiers speak to the press. Then, it was Cindy's turn. The cameras zoomed in, the voices subsided, and everyone watched as America's newest media sensation spoke. It was a circus, but I had gotten a close up view of what it is so easy to miss in all this: that a grieving mother is trying to save others from experiencing the pain that torments her. I can't speak for Casey and I don't think anyone can, but I know that if this were my mother, I'd be honored.