It has been a stressful time for Cara. She did not talk about it, but it manifested itself in many ways, with much of it directed towards the parental units. Graduation was looming and her biggest concern was getting a job.
We reminded her that she still had a room at our house. This was not what a girl a month shy of getting her master's degree wanted to hear. Since we didn't have any other comforting words in our arsenal, we stuck to the safe platitudes like, "It will work out. You will see."
She came home a couple times during that period, but the visits were short and tense. She criticized freely, snapped often. When she left, I am sad to say that it was often a bit of a relief. We tried hard to understand, but it was not an easy time for any of us. It seemed as if we were no longer on the same side, and I didn't even understand why we were fighting.
We stepped back to give her space, and I prayed. I knew that she was interviewing, but she spoke precious little about them, at least not to us. I gleaned what I could from her facebook posts, but if I asked her about any of them, she replied that she'd rather not talk about them until things were a bit more certain. I could understand that; she did not want to get her hopes up.
She did tell me when she got a couple job offers. One was from the Altoona Campus of Penn State. The other was from an American university in Afghanistan. I prayed harder. I was comforted by the fact that Cara seemed to be inclined towards Penn State. She already works there, so her co-workers would be old friends. She wouldn't have far to move. There were lots of pluses to staying in Altoona.
Last week, we got a call. Cara asked what our plans were for the weekend. There was something about her voice. It sounded sure and confident, the uncertainties of the previous months gone. She sounded as if she'd made a decision.
I knew that she had a skype meeting with someone from Kabul that day, and I asked how that had gone. "Very well," she said, and intuitively, immediately, I knew. I said, "You're going to Afghanistan." There was a pause that removed all doubt. "I wanted to tell you in person," she said. "I thought that you might need a hug."
I didn't know quite what to say, but I knew very definitely what NOT to say.
When Dylan had graduated 7 years ago, recruiters had come to Penn College specifically to talk to the electricians. They wanted to hire them for the rebuild in Iraq. It was a big job, with big money, and Dylan was excited. It was at a time when the Taliban had begun videotaping their gruesome beheadings. Fueled by those ghastly images, I begged him not to go. In the end, I am ashamed to say that I brought out the heavy ammunition: I cried.
Dylan did not go to Iraq. If I'm going to be honest, there were a few times that he talked about that missed adventure, and I felt guilty. I had brokered a decision that I had no business being involved in. I have since apologized to him, but I am still ashamed of that.
So from that failure, I knew what NOT to say to Cara. She explained that her job would give her the opportunity to advocate for women in a part of the world where those women desperately need an advocate. The university is the only option for women who wish to continue their educations in that country.
She explained about armed guards and armored cars and evacuations. For security reasons, she'd have to buy a burqa. She assured me that she would keep her wits about her. I listened quietly, but nothing she said made me feel any better in my heart. I kept reminding myself that prayers reach Afghanistan.
There is a lot to do between now and July, and Cara is wasting no time. It has begun. She hauled home her book collection. I help her carry her things to her room, and I listen to her talk about what she will take with her, and what she'll leave behind. Despite my misgivings, I was relieved that once again, we were talking as if we were on the same side.
Do I have my reservations? Yes. Of course I do, however, since time immemorial, mothers have been stepping back and watching their children go to places they don't understand. I don't imagine that the parents of any soldier had feelings any less conflicted than my own. That is part of being a parent. I know to keep still and to hold my own counsel.
I know that it is the people who dare that will make the greatest changes in this world. I think of the revolutionary thinking of the 60s, when people stood up to be counted, as feminists, as antiwar protestors, as civil rights activists. Those times shaped our country. And now 50 years later, we look at most of those ideals and we do not find them revolutionary at all.
Perhaps it will be that way in Afghanistan. Already the women are beginning to dare, taking 'selfies' of themselves unveiled in public settings, even participating in protests off campus. Despite the possible consequences of this behavior, they dare.
So does Cara.
I can do no less.