Every year, Chicago hosts the Air and Water Show, a weekend of modern and vintage airplanes performing aerobatics, skydiving, all played out in front of a gazillion spectators along Chicago’s North Avenue Beach.
In truth, it’s a lot more air than water, though lots and lots of people watch it from their boats. A standing feature is either the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels or the U.S. Air Force’s Thunderbirds. You probably know the deal—screaming fighter jets flying loops and formations.
It’s impressive. And if you’re not ready for it, terrifying. I was sitting at my home office desk last Thursday and heard this high-pitched whine getting closer and closer and I’m thinking, OK, something’s about to crash around here…. And then this window-rattling thunder. And then, light bulb, “Oh yeah, practice day for the air and water show.”
It honestly is awesome in a terrifying way. And even more terrifying for our neighbor, a veteran who was deployed in Afghanistan who wrestles mightily with post-traumatic stress disorder. We ran into him in the elevator Thursday evening.
The earlier thunder from the jets came up. We asked how he did with that. Not great, was the thrust of his answer. But beyond that, he was truly perplexed: “Those are killing machines,” he said. “People don’t connect them with the reality of war.”
His comment got me thinking about something else that’s been poking at some part of my brain. Awhile back I saw a big ad at a bus station for Jockey underwear. It’s part of a series showing real people. One is a female firefighter in Jockeys, for example. They’re effective.
In another, the one that sort of arrested me, it’s a double amputee in Jockeys. Not just any double amputee, but a former Marine who lost those legs in Afghanistan. Disabilities of one kind or another have been part of my life for a long time now. I’m not squeamish. I absolutely feel fortunate to live in a place and time where people with one disability or another are, as Beth wrote in her last post, part of the fabric of life, and not cloistered.
What’s eating at me is ambivalence. On one hand: Good for that Marine. He suffered, he survived. I can’t imagine what he experienced. He’s moving forward. He’s providing a great example to others. He probably makes some money off the ad. It’s his choice, so he’s not being exploited. And a disabled person is right out there, showing it can be done.
On the other: Am I sure he’s not getting exploited—just a little? (FYI, Kenneth Cole used another veteran amputee the year prior in a campaign for its men’s fragrance.)
More important—am I getting used to this? Am I getting inured to the idea of war being normal and that we somehow can put mangled soldiers back together again? So it’s not that bad?
Given my discomfort, that answer is no—I’m happy to realize I’m not getting used to it.
And I don’t want to.