She speaks calmly about him, the man she loved for five years. Her voice is strong: it doesn’t waver or break or even catch. She rushes a little when she talks about his death, the country boy who gave his life so very, very far away. It’s the only emotion she shows.
She has a goal today, just two months later, making up care packages to send to her late boyfriend’s unit. She’ll talk at his school, raise money and send boxes and write letters.
But if it were I?
I kiss the soft neck of my friend’s infant son and he laughs and he looks just like his father and I laugh too until I count the months until the man will be gone. Across the room I watch my friend. And later she tells us that it won’t be OK when he’s gone but they will make it, she and the boy and the dog will make it through that year.
I stand this morning with a pitifully small line of people, clapping softly as the parade marches by, sun glinting off the tassels on the high school band’s hats and bouncing off bright red fire engines. Old woman wave age-spotted hands and old men wave white-gloved ones back from the Veterans’ float and behind them the students walk past, boys turned veterans and now students again.
Three old pairs of knees bow slightly but old backs are straight still as the old men lift the wreaths to honor those who didn’t come home and a child plays taps and another answers, but he stumbles and the notes are thick. White-gloved hands salute; young men fire guns and a child covers his ears with his hands and across the street a woman cries.
I don’t know for whom.
And all morning the question runs round and round in my head, even as I take down notes and scribble quotes and shift from one foot to the other.
Could I stand tall like they do?
Maybe it’s better not to ask that question. Because I don’t know if I could.
“He giveth more grace as the burden grows greater,” the old hymn promises and don’t borrow tomorrow’s trouble I guess can mean someone else’s trouble and I have my own burdens and my own griefs that I don’t bear half as well as they seems to.
And maybe the girl left behind is only strong while we’re talking, and maybe her defenses crumble when we hang up our phones and maybe she’s breaking now.
Maybe we all seem stronger than we are, to the people who don’t know.
“It should give us strength to remember their commitment and resolve,” so said the woman not too much older than I but who has seen two deployments herself and waited long nights for her man to come home.
But if I ever have half the strength that they have I will be proud.
So to those who go, and to those who wait for them, and to those who keep a weary vigil at their graves: I am humbled by your strength, and honor your courage, and pray that if ever so much is asked of me, I will be able to give it.