Saturday, May 1, 2010

The books I read now

I have just now finished reading The Places in Between, by Rory Stewart, a book recommended to me by my daughter. This is an unusual tale, written by a British man who walked across Afghanistan in 2002. I, in turn, recommend the book to you.

As I sat down at the computer, intending to look up what Rory Stewart is doing these days, an email from my daughter arrived with a link about him. Turns out he's running for Parliament.

As for my daughter, within a few weeks, she and her husband will fly to Kandahar with the 101st Airborne and will be gone for a year. This will be the second deployment for each of them.

During my daughter’s first deployment, while she was near Kabul, I had trouble figuring out how to cope, how to feel about her being there. I tried to do supportive things. I packed and mailed boxes of homemade cookies and silly gag gifts, of Sudoku puzzles and fancy soaps. I bought a large plastic button to wear, inserting into it a photo of my daughter in her Army uniform. I put a "proud parent" bumper sticker on my car and hung a Blue Star flag on our front porch. I planted up pots of red, white, and blue flowers for the deck.

I didn’t watch the evening news.

But none of that felt quite right. It wasn't enough.

This deployment is different. This time, I want to know. I feel that if I can understand it all better, I will have, if not more control exactly, at least more of a connection to what is going on.

I have bought three large maps: one of the Middle East region, one of just Afghanistan and Pakistan, and one road map that shows Kandahar Province. (There are not many roads there.)

My husband and I have bought books about Afghanistan to read: The Places in Between, which I have just finished, and In the Graveyard of Empires, which Bob has read. Perhaps we will now switch.

In The Places in Between, Stewart wrote: I chose to walk from Herat to Kabul in a straight line through the central mountains. The normal dogleg through Kandahar was flatter, easier, and free of snow. But it was also longer and controlled in parts by the Taliban.

After reading his book, I now understand the geography of Afghanistan much better - and much else about this troubling corner of the world. Ignorance was not bliss last time. It does feel helpful to know more now.

And while our daughter is away, when I am not reading, I will knit.

For my beautiful daughter who once danced ballet and played the cello, I will knit a helmet liner of the softest wool.

I will make her other little gifts, too, to keep my hands busy and to keep her close in my thoughts.

And with each click of my knitting needles, with each tightening of the yarn, I will draw my daughter safely back home.