The Importance of Being of No Importance
On September 11, 2001, Private Diana Lindloff was out on a field training exercise with her military unit in Camp Stanley, a U.S. Army base near the city of Uijeongbu in South Korea. They would get the call around midnight Korea time, but she wouldn’t be able to watch the moment planes hit the World Trade Center towers in New York. She wouldn’t see news of the catastrophe as American adults alive at the time in the continental United States could have. Even though her camp and the rest of the armed forces would be on lockdown for the next several weeks, she would feel disconnected, so removed from the event before the age of widespread Internet that she would ask her mother to send her newspapers from that day.
By March 2002, Diana would be reassigned to my unit in Fort Lewis, Washington, where she would join other intelligence analysts in our signal (communications) company. Diana — being the good friend that she is — would take me to my first Kentucky Derby, help me celebrate my 21st birthday and hold my hair at a gas station bathroom at the end of the night, and even eat caramel cheesecake at Hooters with me. Diana was a part of many events in my Army career. But what she would end up not being part of would haunt her for many years.
When our unit deployed to Mosul, Iraq, in the summer of 2004, Diana had just gotten out of the military a few months before. For the whole year we were in theater, she felt she should have been there with us. She felt so much shame that even now she doesn’t like hearing people thank her for her service. She doesn’t know how to respond. Psychology Today defines survivor’s guilt as “something that people experience when they’ve survived a life-threatening situation and others might not have.” It is described as “an endless loop of ‘counterfactual thoughts that you could have or should have done otherwise, though in fact you did nothing wrong.’”
For generations, Americans have been called to sacrifice for conflicts and wars abroad, whether that’s decades ago in Vietnam or the Great World Wars, or the one I was part of almost 20 years ago now. These days we are called to a different kind of sacrifice, not to take up arms, but to stay at home or wear a mask as part of the COVID-19 response. Diana is not missing a step now, even though any other time she’d be working multiple jobs that she loves because they allow her to seek out the things that fulfill her, like volunteering at the zoo and working with animals — something she’s dreamed of since she was six years old. She found a way to rise above her guilt and has fought to always be part of the solution ever since.
Diana, who is an extreme extrovert, is social distancing in 2020. Be like Diana. Be part of the solution. Stay at home.