Bowe Bergdahl returned to the United States early this morning. He is now in Texas, thousands of miles away from his Taliban prison and a lifetime away from his life as a soldier in the 501st Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division.
I know nothing about Bergdahl except what I have seen and read in the media. I make no argument for him. Is he a deserter? Should anyone have died trying to rescue him? Is it good policy to trade enemy prisoners for an American POW? I don't know the answers to these questions, despite the fact that several people on my Facebook feed do and despite the fact that dozens of bloggers do.
All I know, and this knowledge is hard earned, is what suffering looks like. This is not an argument. This is a plea for mercy.
When the Bergdahl news broke, I will admit that I knew nothing about him. At some point in the last five years I must have read about him because I read a lot of news. Nothing, however, stuck in my mind. And while I've been interested in his release, it wasn't until I saw the Taliban-made video that I became captivated by the story.
You must have seen it. He's sitting in the vehicle in that flowing tunic. The blankness on his face consumes the camera. He rubs his eyes, blinks like someone who can barely tolerate the light.
That face has haunted me. I've seen that look before.
The first time someone comes to my support group, they look a bit like this. They've usually been recently diagnosed and they're reeling with all that comes from a cancer diagnosis. They're reeling from fear mostly. But sometimes it's the pain. Always, it's the alienation and the loss of "normal."
I've felt this fear and alienation myself. For me, the suffering from getting a cancer diagnosis was tied up with having been a smoker. As I met others with cancer I felt overwhelmed by guilt. As I went into remission and others died, I felt a confusion of relief and agony. I want to be in remission. I don't want to die from cancer, but as a smoker I have often felt like I deserved to suffer.
None of these folks in my support group who've died deserve to. I think of Valeta and Tom, Stephanie, Barbara, Michael, and MK. They have all died and they all seem better in spirit and in life than I could hope to be. I don't think any of them smoked.
When I see Bowe Bergdahl's face, I can't help but see my own and the faces of all the people I know who have suffered.
I had a dream about Bowe the other night. He was in a tunic and we were walking through the desert. He offered me a cigarette and I said, "No, that's what gave me cancer." He said, "Cigarettes didn't give you cancer." And I cried.
I don't know what caused my cancer, and I don't know how Bergdahl became a prisoner of the Taliban. I don't know what either of us deserves. I do, however, know what having cancer feels like, and I don't wish that on my enemies. Cancer has changed me, and I'm a lifetime away from sitting on my back patio in the warmth of an Illinois summer, smoking a cigarette and sipping a gin and tonic.
Please look at Bergdahl's eyes and see the suffering. Please find it within yourself to not celebrate or enjoy that pain. This is a plea for mercy.
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