Like you, dear reader, I am a member of a club in which I do not wish to belong. Far from being pursued, acquired or earned, membership was thrust upon me.
And like you, I am a member of a club in which the cost of membership remains too much to bear.
Yet, we bear it. I don the mask of daily life and bear it.
We bear the price of membership, seared as if with a brand across a place most delicate. And duly marked, we soldier on. Time joins us in our march forward as we come to recognize how membership in this club pours us like a liquid into the hearts and lives of fellow members.
The initial, sudden, pain of the mark has been dulled by time’s patient journey. The mark itself? Well, it’s hidden; sometimes by a morning beam of light, or a smile, the rush of daily life or, perhaps, simply the toil of forward motion. Still, when least expected, the mark resurfaces as a reminder. It reminds us that membership exacts a periodic toll. When alone in my car I think of this personal payment every time I pass through a tollbooth, my journey sullied by a subtle stab.
And though, like you, I paid dearly for membership with familial treasure I find myself more often than not recoiling from member activities.
For the activities associated with our club seem to chip away at me, erode me and break off flecks from hardened edges. You see, when leaving a membership event I look down and see fists clenched tight, ready for battle at the simplest slight. Lips purse white as a scorched fuse shortens. So I avoid club activities whenever possible.
I stay away.
I’m sorry, dear member, but they attrit me.
So, often it’s the case I find myself saying “no” to an invitation. I hunt for conflicts in my schedule. In response to a whispered suggestion of “you should go” followed by a gentle hand on the elbow, I shrug and say, “No. No thank you.”
I don a mask of appreciation.
Lips pursed tight I nod, “Maybe next time.”
And with the invitation relegated to the past I turn away and hide inside myself.
But yet, here I am in Cambridge, 15 minutes from home, at one such event, surrounded by members and nonmembers alike. For every now and then I find I cannot help myself. I find myself unable, no unwilling, to say no.
Pulled to attendance, not by the unbearable weight of membership, but by the weight of those I meet at such events. I give in and say “yes”. The simple thought of spending time with fellow members such as Rita Lasar of New York or Linda Gay of Massachusetts, both met while attending proceedings at Guantanamo Bay, swells my heart. And when I see them, I don’t linger upon their loss. I don’t consider their cost of membership. I fall into their arms, eyes closed, as friendship pours fourth like a liquid to fill a heart seared by the mark of membership.
And I’m drawn by the opportunity to spend time with those selflessly serving our member community with unimaginable dignity and grace and in doing so honoring the price we paid; honoring loved ones lost. The prospect of sharing an evening with men and woman I now love, men and woman like Karen Loftus and Domini (Mac) McDonald of the Office of Victim Witness and VFM CCTV Programs, outweighs the burden of membership.
The thought of sharing time with the likes of such individuals, met at Guantanamo and now woven into the fabric of life, compels me to shunt aside my reflexive “no”. And I find myself saying yes to an invitation.
Taking my hand, time tugs me forward.
This evening, at an event held at the Harvard Law School, I witness the intellectual grace and unbridled commitment of Brigadier General Mark Martins as he shares his thoughts with an auditorium filled with members and nonmembers alike. I witness the emotional passion, the quick wit and judicial experience of Prosecutor Ed Ryan as he walks us through recent proceedings.
Together these men and their learned colleagues wage legal battle on behalf of our loved ones. They fight back against a cost of membership thrust upon us. Here, in Cambridge, the passion and commitment first witnessed in a Guantanamo Bay court room sheathed in corrugated steel echo through a Harvard lecture hall.
And as the event unfolds I find myself nodding in silent agreement as Brigadier General Martins quotes Robert Jackson, Chief Prosecutor for the United States at Nuremberg. “That four great nations, flushed with victory and stung with injury, stay the hand of vengeance and voluntarily submit their captive enemies to the judgment of the law is one of the most significant tributes that Power has ever paid to Reason.”
The words waft through me as I drift away in recollection of my visit to Guantanamo Bay. There in Cuba the five men responsible for our lifetime memberships, my enemies, are tried as equals under the judgement of the law of the country they sought to destroy.
And recalling my trip to Guantanamo I think not of hatred or pursed lips or clenched fists. Here, in a Harvard lecture hall, my thoughts float toward a memory of Karen Loftus as she quietly walked alongside me under a hot Cuban sky following a difficult day in court. She would not let me walk alone. I close my eyes and recall Domini McDonald waking at 5:30AM to drive me to the weekly GTMO 5k race so I’d have the opportunity to run alongside the men and woman committed to protecting our nation. He woke before dawn to provide me with that moment simply because I asked. And I recall how I did not have to hide inside myself, there among friends at Guantanamo Bay.
My thoughts linger on fellow club members met at Guantanamo. I think of Linda Gay, proudly reminding the world her husband lived; that he so very much matters. I think of my love for Rita Lasar, a woman as passionate about justice as she is about honoring the memory of a brother too brave, of a brother too selfless.
And here in Cambridge, as law students raise hands in query, I find myself steeped in memory of a visit to Guantanamo Bay in 2013.
There, I witnessed professional commitment.
There, I witnessed the application of the law to even the most wretched.
There, I came to respect those waging battle on behalf of our loved ones.
I came away emotionally exhausted yet renewed, drifting as if in a daydream.
Pulled back to the Harvard event I am startled by laughter as the lecture hall responds to a joke shared by Brigadier General Martins, a joke missed due to my Cuban daydream. Within a moment I regain my bearings as Brigadier General Martins fields a question.
All around curious legal heads nod.
Next to me a fellow member turns and shares a knowing nod.
She, like so few others, knows of a hidden mark. She knows the price paid.
And under the cloak of legal banter, I remove my mask for the woman next to me.
And I pour myself like a liquid into the heart and life of a future friend.
All because I said yes.