by Donna A. Tallman
A caisson rides by and I leave to follow it to the next funeral. Just across the road a sign reads, “Section 61.” It is a massive parcel of uncultivated dirt growing only two lone trees. As I wonder why an empty lot sits nearby, the top of the Washington Monument peeks above the small rise holding its breath, waiting for my realization.
“O God, the next war!”
I steady myself as waves of grief overtake me. Before I know it, I have taken out my camera, and am taking pictures so I never forget their sacrifice. I walk by the headstones of many highly decorated service members. There is a middle-age grandmother, a Marine who loves the Boston Red Sox, a team of five soldiers, and a grave marker for a Muslim. I stop to pray for these families and weep for their loss.
The cadre of mourners attending the earlier service has mostly disappeared. In its place a non-organized yet subconsciously synchronized, convoy of mini vans arrives. A woman gets out of her van, grabs a blanket, lawn chair, and a jug of water before slamming the door. Mounted on the back of her car is a sticker that reads, “Half my heart in Heaven.” Another mini van arrives, and another. Each van carries a single woman armed with grief and memories.
Her home has betrayed her. It is no longer full of the life and hope of her husband’s return, so she escapes to Arlington to reflect. The widow comes to say the things that she cannot say at home . . . to utter aloud the unspeakable agony of her heart. Surrounded by a field of dead strangers, the widow now feels more at home in a cemetery than she does in her own house. She is tired. She is lonely. She is broken.
In the waning afternoon hours of what has become a typical day, the widow lies face down over her husband’s grave aching to hold and be held. She whispers a prayer of surrender, and asks for the strength for just one more day. Despite the challenges she knows await her, yesterday’s widow rises to conquer her own battle…the battle for her future.
“He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak” (Isaiah 40:29).
Lord, when I have expended all that I have, remind me that your resources are limitless and you eagerly desire to add your strength to my faith.
*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.