Thursday, May 22, 2003

Thinking of My Engagement to Nora Before Leaving for Iraq

May 22, 2003 (I think) Camp Spearhead

The urge to call Nora and hear her voice is overwhelming, but there is no way to go to a phone right now. I just got back from the internet trailer, so I was able to send her another e-mail. Jimmy’s now fiancée sent an e-mail saying he is in south central Iraq. I doubt I will see him before I go to Baghdad. Maybe at a checkpoint on HWY 80 or something. I hope he is OK, and not suffering mentally. She said they got engaged the night before he left. I told her that Nora and I are engaged too.
Getting engaged, and more so encountering that feeling and voice, that force that tells you it is time to ask the one you love to marry you – is the most important thing I have experienced thus far in my life. Over the past few months, the voice grew louder, clearer, and irresistible in the most wonderful way. I was almost driven to propose in London, and on a few later occasions when Nora and I were traveling. I don’t remember the night, but I was in the field in February or January when I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I would ask her within weeks. With my conscientious objector situation developing right along side of the war, and following my pilgrimage to the Vatican, there was little time or place or happiness to propose. When I did come back from the Vatican, I felt an immense sense of peace, trust, and faith. This calmed the storms of uncertainty and Nora and I grew even closer.
It seemed surreal, but I began the search for a ring. I asked Nora’s parents for permission to ask for her hand, and the response was so positive and supportive. Her dad was so nervous when I asked, and he blurted out “Yes, of course!” as soon as I asked. I had to try not to smile and reveal my amusement at his nervousness. I had some sympathy for him, and he soon relaxed and we were able to talk about it. Biggy and Oma Lissy were really positive about it, and it was so great to experience. I chose one ring out of two, the other one being gold. The one I picked was silver (white gold), and it was exactly what I had in mind. I knew that Nora would be over-modest, but I wanted to give her a symbol of my love – even though in our relationship, symbols have always been far less valuable than what we hold in our hearts for each other. I chuckled though, knowing that she would deny the ring was hers and proclaiming it to be unnecessary and too expensive. I also knew she would understand it though – and she did. I got the ring, and couldn’t believe what I had, what a step it was, what an important signal I was sending. I showed everyone at work, Foley saying, “Yes! I do!” I went home and showed the kids and Biggy. She inhaled deeply and clapped her hands over her mouth, and the kids all grinned widely. Biggy then hid the ring.
Time came and went, along with some bad weather, and changes in plans due to my deployment. I thought about Easter as the day, but we were too busy to get out of the city, and I had been up all night for the Army. It seemed there was never a perfect time or place to do it, but I wanted originally to do it in Boston, or Charleston. If not there, I would do it in Freiensteinau. I wasn’t disappointed that we wouldn’t be able to do it in Boston due to the deployment, and I felt better because it didn’t feel like I was proposing in a hurry.
Oma Moo had her birthday, and that was the day I decided, because it would be in Freiensteinau. The family went up there, and all I could think of was when and where. Biggy took us for a walk across the village and the church yard, telling Nora and I about the family history and her memories of growing up there. Nora and I were walking close, hand in hand. We went to the house where Biggy used to live, and looked at some old pictures of the family from the 1800s.
When we came back to Oma Moo’s, the sun was starting to go down, and I was debating on whether or not I should have waited another day. Biggy signaled that she had the ring in her jacket pocket that was in the van. Nora and I went to the van with Ronja and her cousins, and I found the ring and quickly put it in my pocket. I had to look for it earlier, but couldn’t find it, and Nora was asking “What are you looking for?” So I had to stop that. Now, I had the ring, I just hoped she wouldn’t notice. I knew that from this point on, I was on my own, doing something all important, for the first time, and I didn’t know what to expect from myself. I felt like I was on that plane to Boston all over again.

2100 – continued… (Found out it is 21 May)
I just talked to Nora for an hour, hehehe. I feel fine now, it was so great to hear her voice.

“If I’m well, you can tell she’s been with me now…
with me now…
she’s been with me now for a long time…
And I feel fine.”
- James Taylor

I was laughing so hard when she was talking about washing my old clothes, I am still laughing about it right now. God, I am so lucky! Back to the proposal!
Well, we were all outside, and there was still enough sun light outside, so I took her by the hand and we ran away from the kids and Oma Moo’s house and towards the old church road and fields. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I knew I was excited, nervous, and anxious all at the same time. I couldn’t wait any longer! So we ran towards the hill, then over it towards the field. The little kids all followed, sneaking along in the bushes. Part of me wanted them to leave, and part of me thought it was cute, especially knowing what was about to happen. I remember getting so nervous, because I didn’t know what to do, but I know I wanted her forever, and I had the ring in my pocket to show her. Nora noticed something was happening, saying, “What is it? What is it Dan?” It was in that voice that let me know she was curiously amused. She felt the ring box in my right pocket. I will never forget… “What are you doing? What is that?” in a funny voice. She knew, I could swear that, and that only made things better. I said ‘Do you think you can get that ring off?’ laughing (talking about our friendship ring). I remember telling her how much she means to me, and my legs got weak. I then started to go down on my knee, and I will NEVER forget how powerful that was. Hesitation, awe, happiness, surreal wonder, all trembled through my knees until I took control and planted my knee firmly down and looked up at her in her eyes. ‘Nora, will you marry me?’ I asked. Excited and seemingly in shock, she said, “Yes, I will marry you,” along with repeated “You are crazy, oh my God, I love you!” I’ll remember most that she got on her knee too and we met at the face level, looking into each other’s eyes. I thought that was awesome. I jokingly said ‘You need to stand back up so I can do this properly!’ We hugged so much spinning, repeating “I love you!” Her cousins and Ronja came out of the bushes to see what was going on. We wanted to keep the news private. Nora hates to be the center of attention, and if news of that got out while we were there, it would spread quickly. Her cousin Katrin came over to us and I saw the “Holy Crap!” look on her face. We just had to laugh. Then the kids left, we weren’t talking to anyone else. We went back to the van, and sat there debating over whether we should go back in the house or not. Lilo came to the van and we talked to her. She is so nice to us. We eventually got back to the house and thought everyone knew about what had just happened. We figured Biggy told everyone. She says she didn’t. I’m not sure about that. When it was time to go home, the topic of Iraq came up again.
I hated that I would be leaving her grandparents, and I was worried that would be the last time I would see her grandfather. Before we left, I told the whole crowd there, in good German, where I was going, why, and for how long. I told her grandfather goodbye already, but as I was leaving, he came into the hall (just thinking about this is upsetting me to tears now) grabbed my arm firmly and looked into my eyes. I saw then, as he trembled, that he was crying. I was shaken. I thought that I would start crying at any moment if I didn’t stay strong. I know he himself had left for WWII before being captured in France. He has certainly seen so much, and his showing of emotion meant so much to me. I knew that I had to leave, or I would break down, that I had to be a man, and move forward – stay in control. I whispered to him ‘Danke schön für alles.’
[1] He looked at me in the eyes to nod “yes.” I will never forget this, ever.
Nora and I got in the van, Biggy and Ronja and Larissa got in. I would be driving the family home that night. I felt so close to Nora, our hands were finding each other as I drove, and she would lean over to put her head on my shoulder. I am so in love with her! It felt so peaceful, like we had our own family, and looking in each other’s eyes, we knew we would. I remember Larissa asking why I had to go away. I told her that I had to go help people far away. When I heard her ask this, it hurt, and it made me angry that the children are learning what war is – another generation failed by its elders. It made me sad, and it made me think – again – that there has to be another way than war. I hope to this day that I will be going to help people, God knows I hope that. I want so much to be part of the only good thing to come out of this disaster – the reconstruction. I think this war means more to me than people may realize, except for Nora. Tonight as I write, I am looking forward to going to Baghdad, so that I can get home to Nora, to Oma Moo, the kids, Oma Lissy, Biggy, Mr. Schmid, they are all family, and I cannot wait to see them again. Sometimes the time ahead seems like eternity, but there is no avoiding it. It is a test, and God will see us though – always. I have been too fortunate to think otherwise. As I went to call Nora, the evening prayers were being played on the loudspeakers. Some workers stopped to pray, pointed towards Mecca. I thought about my relationship with God, took a deep breath of salty air (smelled just like Charleston), and knew that everything would be just fine. It always has been in the end. Life has been hard, but it has also been so amazing to me. As I close tonight (I have to take a shower), I think about Nora’s grandfather catching my eye while I was rubbing her back. He smiled at me and nodded his head while blinking his eyes slightly. It was as if he said “Good luck to you boy.” But I know what he meant in my heart, something words would only serve to complicate. Nora and I are everything I ever wanted, all I ever wished for and more. We will make it through this time. I love her so dearly, completely.

[1] Thank you for everything


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