by Donna Tallman
Step by determined step I walk on through Arlington Cemetery. A car passes on my left, then another and another. The procession of mourners drives by in slow motion making its way to the grave site. A color guard stands at attention near a freshly dug grave. A bugler waits for his call, and a squad of seven riflemen stands across the field for their moment of tribute. Cicadas hum just below the surface of unspeakable grief.
I hurry under a tree, not suitably dressed for a funeral nor invited by the family; but here by circumstance in my nation’s field of honor. He is my soldier.
Beautiful in its simplicity, the military funeral proceeds with expected precision. A minister addresses the young crowd of mourners. The flag covering the soldier’s coffin is folded and given to today’s grieving widow whose two restless toddlers squirm next to her. She bows her head in anguished respect – uncertain the nation is truly grateful for her sacrifice, but so very proud of the hero her husband is. The riflemen give a twenty-one gun salute matched by twenty-one unexpected echoes from another burial in progress on the cemetery grounds. The shots of honor reverberate back and forth across the valley as if to emphasize the sobering cost of freedom.
The cicadas pick up their song again whirring louder and louder until I feel them pounding in my ears. Looking up through the tree, I see that a helicopter has joined their cacophony giving tribute to this fallen hero. The bugler closes with the mournful notes of “Taps,” hanging onto the last note until it slowly dissolves into history.
The crowd disperses while I wait under the tree. Stillness returns. Slowly, I begin to walk the uniform rows of gravestones. The magnitude of what we have asked of our soldiers and the grief these families are going through comes quickly into focus. I realize that for the first time ever, I am standing in the graveyard of a war in progress.
“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends”
Prayer: Father, remind me that liberty never travels without its companion, sacrifice, and that sacrifice never travels without love. When I am tempted to forget the sacrifices of others on my behalf, remind me that even You paid the ultimate price for my freedom – the life of your only Son because You loved me.
*This devotion is an excerpt from Stories of Faith and Courage from the War in Iraq and Afghanistan (AMG Publishers 2009), co-authored by Jocelyn Green, Jane Hampton Cook, and John Croushorn.