Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Sound of What? (Or, something my dog taught me.)

For the past three years I have lived on a military base in military housing. I have a great house with a  decent yard, all the strange critters you could want (and not want) and an amazing view. I just have to walk a few feet outside my front door to hit trails for running, hiking and dog walks. At night I hear owls and frogs and, lately, bats.

I also live near what is called an impact area. That means that at any given time the sound of gunfire and bombs will be heard in my house, echoing through the valley that my house backs up to. The military rotates through impact areas so this sound is not constant but when it is near me it can go on for days or weeks. My husband is not typically amongst those out there doing the training because of the nature of his job- so I don't know what it would be like to hear a bomb and think- "That's my hubby out there!" I admit that might change some of my thoughts on this matter.

The noise doesn't bother me personally- sometimes it is so loud that my house shakes a little. The sound and feeling of the blasts do, however, bother my dog Nash. Nash was a happy go lucky dog when we moved here and within the first year of the noise he had lost almost 20lbs, refused to eat, and was scared and shaking constantly. Thanks to medication (lots of dogs here are on Prozac for this problem), training, and the positive presence of our second dog Risa, Nash has really improved. He eats and has gained his weight back, allows himself to be distracted from the sounds of the artillery and overall is much calmer. Sometimes I still find him cowering in the bathtub after a particularly loud, house-shaking blast. At night if we hear even one we know he will be joining us to sleep next to us for comfort, hiding his head under the covers. Our other dog, on the other hand, has almost no reaction to these sounds, much like many other dogs in our area.

When the bombs are going off Nash shakes, scratches at the wall, tries to get my attention, hides his face in my side, tries to hide in closets or under beds and an array of other behaviors that range from sad to adorable. I know why he's doing this- no matter how many times he hears this noise, he cannot reason with himself about the cause. To him, every blast means something bad is coming and that he is danger. I may feel inconvenienced because of the noise but I logically understand that there is a very minuscule likelihood of the artillery causing me harm; Nash cannot do that.

It's not always a surprise when the bombs are going to go off for an extended period of time; often we get noise advisory notices on Facebook or through email which helps us to prepare.

Why am I going on about this? Well, there's two points I want to make:

When people in my neighborhood post reminders about the artillery or want to jokingly complain or comment about how loud it is, the most typical line is something about how the artillery is "the sound of freedom!" We are all supposed to wave our flags and react with joy because bombs are being dropped in our backyards. "Go get'em, boys!" people type, as if the people setting off these bombs are doing some special operation to keep invaders at bay rather than actually training and learning. Curiously, if someone dares on Facebook to complain that the sound is keeping up her child or triggering her migraines, there's this obligatory addition to her post reassuring everyone- "Don't get me wrong, I love this sound!" "Freedom!" (Yelled just like Mel Gibson in Braveheart)

Let me be clear- the sound of bombs and gunfire is NOT THE SOUND OF FREEDOM to me. And frankly if the sound of weapons that kill and maim represent freedom to you, get out of my circle. The sound of bombs and missiles and machine gun fire is the sound of fear, revolution, oppression, death, wounds, war, blood, and more to most people in the world. For example- when military members return from war with PTSD they do not dream happy thoughts of a waving flag and feel like singing the Star Spangled Banner when they flashback to the sounds of bombs going off. We talk about these sounds in our national anthem- a singer hits new heights telling us about "the bombs bursting in air" and how they "gave proof through the night." The flash of the bombs, according to the song, displayed the newly created American flag still standing which was a symbol of victory and hope and freedom to the former British colonists. But I would bet money that during the American Revolution the people cowering in their homes or laying in the battlefield were not filled with immense joy at the sound of canons- maybe at least not until they found out their side was winning and the threat of harm had passed. Maybe it depends on what side you are on- are those the sounds of your weapons, or "theirs?"

But Bethany, you may ask, if the lullaby to the NRA is not the sound of freedom to you, what is? Well, it's a lot of things. To me the sound of freedom is nature- birds, leaves rustling, water moving in a stream. It's my nephews' laugh. It's people of different backgrounds having a conversation and trying to understand each others' different points of view. It's the turning of pages of a book that can teach someone something or take them anywhere. The sound of freedom is a lot of things to me, but it will never be the sound of a weapon.

I know I'm lucky, though. When Nash hears these bombs go off, his dog senses tell him that danger is coming for him. For most people in this world, the sound of bombs or artillery means the exact same thing. For the children in Gaza who are huddled in their already destroyed homes who can't sleep for fear. For the Syrian children in a refugee camp in Greece, for whom bombs have been the soundtrack to the beginning of their undervalued lives. For too many of our American children who have heard gunshots in a classroom or school hallway where those noises should have no place. And those examples aren't even scratching the surface of what has happened and continues to happen to human beings by human beings. So my dog shakes and he takes meds and I get to cuddle him until the sound passes- easy fixes considering most people living in these violent times don't get to pop a pill, get a hug and get over it (or escape the danger in the first place). I can tell Nash- who I'm sure understands English- that soon we won't live here and he will never hear these sounds again.

Now, I probably could have figured all of that out myself without my poor dog needing to suffer through this emotional trauma, but I'm appreciative nonetheless.


Note: I anticipate on average two types of negative reactions to this- one, that I must be unAmerican (or too liberal, or anti-guns, or anti-military) for thinking this way, which I can save you the fury and tell you that you are wrong. Or secondly, that I am just a "bleeding heart." I've thought about this term a lot lately and frankly I don't see what's so bad about having a bleeding heart, or too emotional, cares too much for others, feeling immense empathy for others (it's also a flower). I'm pretty confident that Jesus would have been accused of having a bleeding heart too (probably by the very people who persecuted him) if the term was popular a couple thousand years ago- so no, it doesn't bother me at all to be accused of caring. I also anticipate those who tell me this just isn't good enough- that surely I should divorce my military husband, stage a protest, renounce my affiliation with any entity involved with weapons- but life and love and affecting change in this world is way more complicated and deserves more than those small plans.

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