by Donna Tallman
Gently and quietly he clicks the door shut on his sedan so that even the breeze is unruffled. He deliberately walks toward the oldest row of graves in Section 60. His perfect posture looks military-trained, while the lines on his face mark him Vietnam era. Always focused forward, the eyes of the man in his sixties hone in on one of the markers at the far end. Finally, he reaches the right one and slowly kneels in the grass. The grieving father bows his head.
Some have said that hospital waiting rooms are the great equalizers of life – that injury and sickness recognize no social class, no ethnic divide, and no age category. All are equally at risk. Cemeteries are even more equalizing than waiting rooms. None recovers here.
The father does not tarry long at his son’s grave. He’s not really here to visit him. Instead, he has come to care for the living. While no one else dares interrupt a widow’s vigil out of respect for her grief, the father does. This tender, caring man can approach where others never should. He is a fellow sufferer, a tempest traveler…one who knows first hand the cost of war.
The father begins his rounds of visitation to the daughters he has adopted in the graveyard. He knows each one by name and checks on their welfare. Over the months they have all visited Arlington to grieve alone together; this unlikely group has grown from being intimate strangers among the tombstones, to caretakers of one another’s sorrow.
While he knows that he cannot bring his son home from Afghanistan, the father seeks to heal the history death attempts to write in each of their hearts. Rising above his own agony, he reaches out to care for those around him, and in the process, finds refuge for his own soul.
Yes, Arlington is a graveyard, a place of the dead. It is also a showcase for valor, a field of honor for America’s most courageous soldiers. And for those knit together by the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, Arlington is a place of healing from war’s ultimate sacrifice.
“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psalm 147:3).
Prayer: When life’s raging tempest threatens to break my heart and my spirit, would you, oh Lord, step in with Your authority and restore calm to the churning waves around me? Deliver me and bind up any wounds incurred by my sojourn here on earth.
*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.