Sunday, February 22, 2009

A Journal for Jordan

Last week I had the pleasure of participating in an extremely emotional Blogger's Roundtable discussion with Dana Canedy. Dana's fiance, 1SG Charles King was killed in action in Iraq on October 14, 2006. At the timeof his death, Dana was busy raising their 6 month old son, Jordan, anxiously awaiting the end of his tour, and writing for the New York Times. The book, "A Journal for Jordan", is a combination of her memories of her childhood and her time with Charles plus excerpts from the journal that Charles wrote to their son. It is, in a word, mesmerizing.

I am just over half way through the book, and managed to get about a third of the way through it before I cried. I'm pretty proud of that record, by the way, considering that I was in tears within about 15 minutes of the Roundtable. Dana was incredibly open with us about topics ranging from parenthood to racism, and I will never forget our conversation.

Lindy Kyzer, moderator of the Roundtables, arranged a half-hour interview session with Dana during her February 18 visit to the Pentagon. Lindy always makes sure that every blogger on the call gets to ask at least one question. Sometimes I have a hard time coming up with an intelligent question. (For instance, when I asked an Army scientist which biological weapon poses the biggest threat to the US. Her answer made me want to shut up for a VERY long time... "Considering how many there are, I have no way of answering that question." Um. Yeah. That was sorta like asking why we haven't found bin Laden yet- "BECAUSE WE DON'T KNOW WHERE HE IS, DIP$SHIT... DUH!" Ignorance is *not* bliss.) But fortunately, most of the time I ask half-way intelligent questions and I always learn a lot from the calls.

When it was my turn, Dana had already answered questions about how, and when, she would introduce the journal and the book to Jordan (she's already reading the journal to him but won't give the book to him until he's much older), racial discrimination (she will teach Jordan to recognize differences and attributes of every person, regardless of race), and whether or not she thought the advice given in the book is meant just for Jordan, or all young men (yes, absolutely). My question was this: Being a member of what we bloggers call the MSM, has she ever felt that her peers have unfairly judged our military and misrepresented the war in general. She said "No. I tell you, I truly haven't." She went on to tell us how incredibly supportive the New York Times was during her period of mourning, and how it was her peers who encouraged her to write the book. It wasn't her idea, but rather co-workers who felt that she could put a face to the war, and the Times gave her the space and time to write it. I was relieved and encouraged to hear her answer, knowing that the media may put on an anti-war, anti-military public face, but in private, they show support and respect. She also announced that a movie is in the works, with her as an advisor and Denzel Washington portraying her Charles. Interestingly, she never mentioned who would play her. My money's on the curvaceous, lovely and multi-talented Jennifer Hudson. Oh, she would be a perfect "Dana"... But I digress.

FbL asked my other question, one that is dear to my heart: Since you are unmarried, how do you feel the Army dealt with you with regards to Charles' death? Is there anything you feel should be done that isn't currently being done for couples in your situation? Her answer was surprising to me- she said "It's a tough position to be in because you're, sort of, the "unofficial widow," is how I would describe myself. And I think that it's a difficult position for the military too because what are you to do in a situation where it's not an official family?" She went on to say that a Pentagon official asked her the very same question today, and that ultimately, she needs to give it more thought before answering. Her answer was surprising to me, because knowing how "official widows" are often treated, I figured she would have a more immediate answer.

No matter what the question, Dana's answers were quick, thoughtful, and insightful. The one answer that brought me to tears though was when Beth from Homefront in Focus asked her what she's told Jordan about his Dad, and where he is. I knew I was in trouble when Dana asked us to "hold on while I get Jordan out of the room". *gulp* All throughout the call we could hear his almost 3-year-old babble in the background. After he left, she told us this:

"...about a week or two that he just was asking me all day long about his dad. So finally I said, "Well, where do you think Daddy is?" And he said, "Well, he lives with God and he got a boo-boo." And I said, "Well, Jordan, it's not like when you skin your knee or you hurt yourself. Daddy's body got really, really hurt, and the doctors tried to fix him and they couldn't." And he said, "Well, Mommy, but I can help. I can give God some band-aids."

And it just broke my heart. I was depressed for the rest of the day, literally. I didn't want to get out of bed. And he woke me up that night and he said, "Mommy, I think Daddy's feeling better." "

An audible gulping cry came pouring out of my body at that point. Band-aids for Daddy, in heaven. Precious. Sad... but precious. Several other questions were asked, and then our time with Dana was over. We all left the call knowing more about life, and death, than we did 30 short minutes ago. And we all left the call knowing that buying a copy of "A Journal for Jordan" was in our immediate future.

I'm about half-way through, and Jordan was just born. Throughout the book I'm finding a lot of similarities between Dana and myself, and Charles and Keith. Both Keith and Charles can be quoted saying "crazy woman" when affectionately referring to funny little things Dana and I both do. Charles put his soldiers first many times, at the risk of damaging- if not ending- his relationship with Dana. As a 1SG, he, like Keith, put his soldiers' first. As a fellow independent woman, Dana also found it hard to allow Charles to do things for her, knowing full well that she could do it herself. She said "In time I realized that accepting his overtures was not a threat to my independence but rather confirmation of how secure I was with it." It's a lesson I won't forget.

I won't continue to quote the book. If I do, you won't have a reason to read it yourself. But I will say this: This is a must-read for all potential families, military or not. Both Dana and Charles offer sage advice on relationships, parenting, military life, and.. ultimately... death. I will leave you with some of Charles' journal entries- one on being a good father, and one about being a virtuous man.

To be a good father I think you have to be a good provider. That's not all. You should be a good communicator who has open views, accepts changing times. Be around for significant events. Be there to encourage you in whatever endeavors you desire. A good father always makes himself available. (emphasis mine)

Listen to your first thought. You will figure this out on your own. Never second-guess yourself. When your heart is in the right place, always go with your first thought. Work hard at things and follow your instinct. Since you were born, you have always been alert. That means you will be very perceptive about things. Believe God and trust yourself. Keep the faith, Jordan. You will be fine.

Yes, Jordan, I believe you will be fine. After all, with parents like Charles and Dana, how can you go wrong?


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