I love my church. With true, honest, open hearts, the clergy set an amazing example, always striving to live as Christ did. And they make no fuss over it; they simply do it, much as thousands of men and women, selflessly and without fuss, serve America in our armed forces.
Our church always has a bulletin board outside the sanctuary displaying pictures of any service men and women connected to the parish; we always pray for our troops. And on the Fourth of July we proudly listen to a roll call of all the signers of the Declaration of Independence—men who risked everything for freedom.
Yet the Memorial Day service is always special.
This year, the cantor sang Eternal Father, Strong to Save as a prelude. A gentleman in his eighties made his way to the handicapped seat in front of me and sang along, clearly and beautifully. I knew he would stand up when the time came to recognize all those who have served.
My mind drifted to Rilla of Ingleside, L.M. Montgomery’s book about life on the home front in Canada during World War I. I remembered how, when her brother’s unit sailed for Europe, Rilla couldn’t sing the words “hear us when we cry to thee for those in peril on the sea” until they heard her brother had made it safely past the U-boats. I thought about how many generations of families have had those feelings.
I thought about how many families feel that way today, as their sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, grandchildren, lovers, spouses all serve in a conflict that seems so distant to those of us not involved.
I remember my pride in my brother’s service, but also the never-ending anxiety we all lived with when he was in harm’s way, when every phone call might herald the end of our world as we knew it. My heart used to stop every time the phone rang. For a split second I wondered if it would be my parents with the worst possible news…and then I picked it up.
This was in 2003, so troops had no established communication with home—for the most part, there were no emails, no letters, no phone calls from the troops themselves. I remember avidly following the reporter embedded with his unit, and sharing every precious scrap of information with family members. I remember my joy when his picture was in the paper, then my pause as I realized it must have been taken days ago, and who knew what had happened since then.
And I remember burying all that, and getting on with my life, because that’s what you need to do. That’s what thousands of families still do today. Sure, communications are more regular now. Think for a moment, though, what it must be like when there’s a death in your loved one’s unit. There’s a communications blackout and you wait, wondering if your world has changed forever—or your neighbor’s or your best friend’s or the family you know from school, the ones with the new baby. Then the chaplain visits, communications resume, and everyone moves on in a new reality, a new reality that includes grief and heartbreak and sorrow and emptiness for one family.
I thought of all that in church yesterday, and prayed that those who serve today will always be honored and never be forgotten. I prayed for those who were forgotten and worse, the soldiers of my parents’ generation who dared not wear their uniforms in their own country. I prayed that our country has learned to value the men and women who lay down their lives for us.
When the time came, our priest asked that all those who had served stand and be recognized. Sure enough, among all the others—mostly men and mostly in their eighties, but not all—the gentleman in front of us managed to stand, straight and tall.
My tired four-year-old son rested in my arms with his head on my shoulder. I clung to him as we sang, “In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea…as He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free.”
As we sang that song from 150 years ago—a century and a half in which nearly every generation has been called to defend freedom—I prayed that there would be no more need for such honor, such courage, such sacrifice. And I gave thanks for all who have embodied those virtues, and given their all for us.
We remember. We thank you.