Frame of reference is everything.
In columns, my opinions are sometimes driven by the experience of living in a female body. Often, my African Americanness is my frame of reference, or the fact that I'm a wife, a daughter, a college grad or even a movie fan.
But when it comes to war, I'm all mom.
Something about George W. Bush's frame of reference -- and that of millions of other Americans, many of them loving mothers -- suggests that war may be necessary. Whether it's to save us from a madman's hatred or to secure cheaper oil depends on whom you listen to.
My frame of reference says differently. It whispers that at this moment -- in barracks, distant cities and far-flung deserts -- other people's sons and daughters are eating, laughing, studying, hanging out as sons and daughters do.
That weeks from now, they could be gone. Irrevocably.
Not by car accidents or drugs or disease. Gone by virtue of a war not yet begun.
These sons and daughters, I realize, are as alive and as essential as my own amazing children. Which makes their impending goneness unbearable.
Admittedly, my being black may factor into my feelings: African Americans overwhelmingly oppose war with Iraq, and not just because we make up only 12 percent of the U.S. population while making up 21 percent of military personnel and 30 percent of Army enlistees.
But I see war primarily as a parent.
I see it as a thief of sons and daughters whose loss is unfathomable. That my love for my children is my life's deepest and most enduring is no big deal. Every mother -- and surely father -- regardless of age, income level, color and culture, knows such love and how vulnerable it makes you. The sight, the sound, the unique themness of a mother's children is so deep, she'd do damn near anything to protect them.
Because every sane mother knows her child is irreplaceable, war by its nature is insane. It must be avoided until -- ironically -- it becomes the only sane choice.
As a mother, I'm asking, "Are we there yet?"
Politicians, I fear, care little about mothers' feelings. Unless those feelings are translated into votes that threaten their power. Wars are fought over "bigger" things: national security, money, global power balances. Feelings, squishy and imprecise, remain unmentioned.
Much like something that most parents feel but rarely articulate -- that their child's well-being is so essential, they'd sacrifice the well-being of another child for its sake.
Few talk about the calculations we inwardly make for war. No politician says, "Bombing Saddam Hussein -- and unfortunately killing dozens, hundreds -- who knows how many? -- children will make our kids safer." No mother wonders aloud, "How many at-risk Iraqi youngsters -- or Afghan, Palestinian or Israeli youngsters -- are worth risking mine?"
Such feelings have nothing to do with whether one's child is more loving, bright or deserving.
He's ours, so he's worth it. I know her laugh, her smell, her specialness, so I mustn't care overmuch about other children's indispensability.
If we cared, would we sit silently by -- as have many parents with deep, unspoken doubts about this war -- as the nation prepares for it?
Vivian Scofield of Capitol Heights says that caring for all children is her nature. As a retired schoolteacher. As a mother whose daughter is stationed -- Scofield believes but isn't sure -- in Kuwait.
In the late 1990s, Army Maj. Krystal Scofield-Johnson, a critical care nurse at Walter Reed Army Medical Center before shipping out last week, was stationed in Bosnia, then Croatia. "I was worried," her mother admits.
"I'm more worried now."
She sounds awfully calm for a 72-year-old suddenly caring for two toddler-age granddaughters. For a mother who -- like thousands of military mothers -- sat quietly as her daughter explained the unthinkable. "They have to prepare for not coming back," Scofield begins. "If" -- long pause -- "she's killed or something, she has to set up documentation. . . . It's like, 'You have to bury her this way . . .'
"They have to tell you that," she says.
Right now, Scofield believes war with Iraq is "unnecessary. . . . Even if [Krystal] wasn't there, I'd be thinking about other mothers and fathers who had to go, leaving their children." And their mothers.
Listening, I wondered yet again if war would make our nation less safe. I examined the inner war that pits my yearning for my children's security against distant mothers' similar feelings. I weighed the sacrifices of mothers in past wars that ensured my freedom against the necessity that every mother who doubts this one make her voice -- and her feelings -- heard.
Before anything is irrevocable.
For Scofield, this isn't rhetoric. Having a daughter close to war means "having faith that she is coming back," she tells me. "It means praying that those who are in charge will work harder for peace. That they won't jump into something that could affect everybody.
"Not just mothers."