For me, April 9th will forever be Liberation Day.
Last year, I expressed my feeling about this time of year in column titled Absolutely Worth It.
This piece continues to express how I feel. Yet, five years on, the sum of anniversaries has an added personal symmetry for me.
It was on this day, in 1998, that I formally joined the Iraqi opposition to Saddam at a young age a few days shy of 22. I had dabbled before here and there, but it was then that I took the plunge to do this for real. At first, my family thought that it was a waste of life, but they eventually came around after I made this argument: I won't do this forever, no way, but I'll do it for a maximum of five years or until whenever Saddam is overthrown within that time period. My paternal grandfather, my parents, and my uncles had all be badly bruised by their forays into politics, and those experiences had left them with broken hearts, surrounded by broken things. Another generation trying to fix things, especially after the bleak horrors of Saddam, was a fool's errand, a waste of youth, a despairing venture.
I sold my own stint in this field to my folks as a form of mandatory military service that I'd have to go through before I did the proper middle class thing of finding a real, paying job. Their attitude turned from one of initial hesitation to an outpouring of unconditional support. My brother, especially, took it upon himself to help me get by throughout the years I worked as a volunteer. I could tell too, as the years advanced and liberation was within sight, that my father and mother had started to look upon me with something beyond pride, closer to awe. This sustained me with immeasurable power, and clarity of mind. It kept me centered when I was scared or despondent or vengeful for I always had a point of reference to the values I was brought up with.
I always thought it was kind of neat, in an anecdotal manner, to have Saddam's overthrow coincide with the promise I made to my family. It took exactly five exacting years. On this fifth anniversary though, the symmatry strikes me on a more profound level.
I remember that the overthrow of Saddam had become one of my three constant New Year's wishes from an early age, probably when I was around 8 or 9; wishes that I made every year, with liberation being the foremost. To have served in whatever minimal capacity and to whatever minimal effect in this great and noble cause is my deepest well of self-worth. I was one soldier among many, but wherever I go, there's an invisible medal hanging on my chest for the part I played in this victory over tyranny. It is also my own liberation from whatever neurotic fears I may have: should I glimpse a white piano crashing into me, I know that the last thought in my soon-to-be-smashed head would be that there was meaning in the time I had among the living, and that having something to do with the events of April 9, 2003 was plenty meaningful for one lifetime.
Five years on, this pride continues to swell with the certainty of righteousness, and with the fuller realization that this New Iraq, of which I can claim the tiniest of ownerships, is destined for immense, necessary roles in the service of civilization and civility.
On this very personal day, I remember the family that closed ranks behind me; the friends who gave and gave and gave; my comrades, some dead, some living, all made better and more glorious for the path traveled together. And I remember myself and I am thankful for a life unburdened with shame and regrets. Thankful too for this invisible medal on my chest.
So, on this April 9th, I wish you all a Happy Liberation Day.