Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Sharing Tears with a Stranger

I drove home after dropping a friend off at church intending to write my final paper for a college class.  It was a rare night off for me.  I'm usually working, recovering or going to church.  I drove by a funeral home, one of two that are on the block where I live, and saw an airman standing outside the front door. He was standing guard over the body of a local airman who'd died a couple of days ago.

A thought ran through my head, "Why don't you go see if there's anything he needs?"  There was a comfortable lawn chair and a cooler, but maybe he could go for a cup of coffee.  I parked my car in front of my house, walked the block across the street to the funeral home as the sun's rays leaped through the clouds stretching my shadow out with the late hour.  As I approached, doubt crossed my mind.  What if he thinks I'm an idiot for asking?  What if he needs something I can't give?  The closer I got the more I realized how high his rank was - this was a seasoned airman.  I couldn't remember... master sergeant?  Chief?  His eyes were down, looking at a notebook.  When he heard me approach, hard eyes met mine and he habitually went to parade rest.  The way you do when a civilian approaches you on the job.

"Excuse me," I said, hoping I wasn't breaking some guard protocol by speaking to him.
"Yes?" His voice was as deep as the lines in his aged face.
"I'm sorry, is it master sergeant or chief?"
He glanced away as I took a step closer.  "Senior Master Sergeant."
"Senior Master Sergeant," I repeated.  "I was just driving bye and saw you standing out here.  I live just over there and wanted to see if there was anything you needed."
His eyes softened and he shook his head.  "Just prayers for the family of Airman ----.  Thank you."

Suddenly, standing in the sunlight, the name of an airman on the lips of a man who'd been in the Air Force for at least twenty years standing before me, I couldn't help but cry.  Tears filled my eyes and I felt so humiliated.  I didn't know whether the airman who'd died was a man or woman (woman), nor did I know her name until the airman guard told it to me, but tears filled my eyes and my face became contorted in the way it does when you just want to fall to your knees and weep.  I hurt for this airman, the one who died, the family who would soon be attending a funeral, and the man standing guard over the facility where her body lay.  The pain of it all, sank into my heart like a sponge and I cried tears I think I'd been unable to cry for myself and my own situation.  I turned as though to leave, and turned back.

"I was a Marine for four years.  I'm so sorry."
And his eyes filled with tears and he nodded, "Thank you for your service."
I couldn't help it, I reached out a hand and shook Senior Master Sergeant Falco's tanned hand, the tears filling both of our eyes.
"If you change your mind and need anything, I'm in that big house on the corner.  Just knock on the front door.  Any of your guys."
He nodded, thanked me in a choked voice.
I nodded.  "Thank you for what you're doing."

Sometimes I think those of us who were in the service extend so much gratitude to others we see in the service because we know how little we get thanked for what we do.  We know how hard it is.  We know the pain of losing someone, whether you knew them or not, you lost one of your own.  I've never lost a Marine in my unit, never lost a Marine I knew very well, but I've lost Marines I've known.  I've cried at funeral's of Marine's I haven't known, service members I've never met.  I think tonight, my tears were for the pain not only within that building and in the heart of the man standing guard, but for the two policemen who were shot in my city tonight, the pain of teenagers on drugs at the inpatient rehab facility where I work, the victims of abuse who don't know how to work though their pain like a close friend of mine, the injustice that causes so much hurt, and all of it that can't be avoided.

Pain.

Tonight, I'll keep my ear open for a knock at the door in case someone needs a cup of coffee or just a service member not part of their unit to listen.  Even if there isn't a knock, I'll keep that airman and her family in my prayers, and those affected by her death.  Sometimes in the midst of so much pain in the world, there's nothing we can do but pray.