Saturday, February 28, 2009

Requiem for a soldier

"There is an appointed time for everything and there is a time for every event under heaven-- a time to give birth and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted. A time to kill and a time to heal; a time to tear down and a time to build up. A time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance. A time to throw stones and a time to gather stones; a time to embrace and a time to shun embracing. A time to search and a time to give up as lost; a time to keep and a time to throw away. A time to tear apart and a time to sew together; a time to be silent and a time to speak. A time to love and a time to hate; a time for war and a time for peace." Ecclesiastes 3.

Along with 19 others, I was asked to prepare Marc's favorite dessert for the memorial service. What a privilege to do something, anything, for the family. I carefully chose only the very best granny smith apples to make the apple crisp. Ordinarily, I just slap food together to be as quick as possible to finish the task of cooking, but I found myself painstakingly cutting and mixing this dish and thinking about other food I served this family. After the birth of the youngest child I brought to their house fried chicken and macaroni and cheese. The only reason I remember this is because Mary often talked about it. She always said how nice that was, but then laughed about how I didn't know at the time she hated cheese.

As I baked the dessert the phone rang. It was someone from our police department--the emergency call system put in place to tell us of fallen trees on the road or downed power lines. The call goes out to everyone in our town. Today we were told the route Marc's body would take from the funeral home to the park where the memorial service would be held. To honor our hometown fallen soldier, residents were encouraged to "line the streets." And they did. Citizens came out on this bitter, cold day--the elderly, veterans, moms and dads and little kids. They stood along the roads, flags in hand, awaiting the procession.

Fred, three of my boys, and I arrived at the park. There were so many people that shuttle buses were carrying us from a distant parking lot to the pavillion at the edge of the woods that Marc so loved. Thankfully, this open structure was covered with clear plastic curtains to block some of the wind, but they flapped wildly with the icy blasts. Once again, we saw our old friends and neighbors, bundled up in their scarfs and hats. But this time there was nothing to say. The ceremony was solemn and respectful. The eulogies were in turn sad, humorous, and heartbreaking. We cried, then laughed. Amazing Grace came in haunting tones from the bagpipes as the wind howled around us. At the very end, a recording of the old song Ballad of the Green Berets was played. The author of that song was like Marc--a Green Beret, a medic, and a staff sergeant, only he did not die in the war in which he served. I knew every word to that song. It's a song from my youth that was on the radio constantly during the Vietnam era, but today it has new meaning.

"Silver wings upon their chest, these are men, America's best, one hundred men we'll test today, but only three win the Green Beret."

At the end of the song a woman's anguished cry pierced the frosty air. Mary? A sister? The fiancee? Her desolate wail squeezed our hearts and tears flowed again. Is there any meaning to be found here? A life well-lived, full and rich--but much too short in our eyes. History repeats--war and death. Amazing grace--the only hope in this desperate world.

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