Once in a while an event will come along that will shake the core of our faith and bring us back down to the realization that we are truly fragile beings just passing through this earth. Today I went to the wake of a 19 year old young man who gave his young, precious life defending our freedom. He was on the football team with our sons Jose and Chris and it was a blow to our tiny school community.
We had been blessed up to this point because quite a few young men and women from our small school had gone on to serve in the armed forces. Some had served overseas in theater (military for in combat). All had come back safely, until now.
I remember when this young man came back from basic training a couple of years ago. He was so excited and pumped. He absolutely loved it! I still remember his contagious laughter booming as he shared stories from basic camp with his buddies. Some people didn't understand his stories or his passion.
I on the other hand, spoke the language. The old saying "It's an Army thing!" is very real, at times it just can't be explained.
You either get it or you don't! I got it.
I got him! The last time I saw him was when he came to watch the season opening football game at Lowell Catholic, still totally excited about serving and doing his duty.
We made him promise to stay safe. He said he would. I guess God needed a good soldier in Heaven because he didn't come home to us; he went home to his Heavenly Father.
We gathered at the school auditorium for a small memorial service before heading over to the wake as a school family. Someone had donated the use of two school buses and we all went together. I ran into some faces I hadn't seen in a long time. The youth, the hope, was all still there, but now tinged with the shadow of death. The realization of mortality had scarred their tender sweet faces. The thought that more of "my" boys, (because I am like that, I adopt everyone and want to bring them all home), were also wearing the uniform of protectors of freedom made my heart ache. One of them, Joe, brought back so many memories. As a young freshman he was taken under wing by my son Alex, who was a senior at the time (He's like that too!). I remember Joe sitting in our family room playing video games. I loved this kid, silly grin, funny sense of humor and could he talk! But he always made me laugh and brighten my day! Now, here, he stood as a handsome young man, standing a little taller, a little prouder because he was wearing his "Class A's", his military dress uniform. A knot tightened in my throat, but at the same time, tears of pride swelled in my eyes as well. We sat together on the bus, talking in a way that only military nuts can. We shared inside jokes, military lingo and silly things that only we thought funny. Yet at the same time I kept seeing my little freshman, like another son, trying to navigate his way through that jungle called "High school"! Joe is married now with a baby and navigating the jungle called "life", yet in my eyes the young freshman lingers.
We walked into the wake together, holding hands, which in a sense was our way of keeping it together. Soldiers don't cry in front of the family, at least we try not to; we try to be strong for them. So in our own way we were strong for each other. I wasn't in uniform. I wanted to, but instead decided on attending as me, the Mom, this way I wouldn't have to try to be strong, I could actually cry. I knew that there was no way I couldn't cry. While we walked up the stairs some veterans were standing outside, in the cold, drizzling rain, holding American flags, heads held high.
As the countless high school students filed by them silently, respectfully, one of them told his wife that his faith in the youth of this country had never been stronger. He was right! We hear about the "me" generation, the down fall of today's youth and their selfish ways. But what we don't hear about or see is the long lines of kids standing, shivering in the rain, for the chance to pay their respects to a young man. This young man for some of the kids, the only kinship to him was the school community we belonged to and his sacrifice for our country. Yet they mourned him just as deeply as if they had been blood relatives. This type of news isn't anything we'd see on CNN anytime soon simply because it doesn't make "good" news. After we were done paying our respects to John's body, we stood up. Instinctually I took a step back while Joe saluted him, Joe pivoted and I reached and grabbed his arm again. Had anyone noticed it might have appeared rehearsed, yet it was not, it was that unspoken military bearing. Though we were separated by decades in age, and we served our country in different capacities, we were comrades in arms for this sad experience.
When Joe was younger I brought guidance and strength to his young life and assisted him through his inexperience. Today, his quiet demeanor (something that I never thought we would associate with Joe!) was my guidance, my rock. No matter what side of the war issue we might be on, there is one thing we must never forget, that not one of these young men or women has died for a mistake.
When a police officer has died senselessly because a drunk driver ran her over, did she die for a mistake?
When a fireman dies trying to find someone in a burning building who has already gotten out, did he die for a mistake?
When a nurse dies from contracting a disease from someone she was treating, did she die for a mistake? The answer is no!
Anytime a person lays down their life trying to help mankind, it cannot possibly be a mistake! It's called altruism. It's what separates us from the other mammals on this earth.
If men could learn to settle their differences peacefully over a conference table then people like Joe and I would be serving our country in a different capacity. So until that time comes I pray every day for the countless, selfless men and women who choose to protect our freedoms, here and in lands far away. They fight even for the freedoms of those that will never understand the whole concept of selflessness, sacrifices or the whole Army "thing".
I hugged Joe extra hard, not just because it had been so long since I had seen him last, but because I was so proud of him and of all the young people like him. I know without a doubt that after I am gone this world will be in great hands with this future generation!
Oooaahhh, PFC. Landry.