Today, Christopher and I went to a memorial service for a former high school student of C's who was killed in Iraq ten days ago at the age of twenty-four. It was held in a Catholic church out in Clayton. We drove past green rolling hills, and the views of beautiful mountain ranges to get there.
Friends and family members spoke; as we entered the church the young man's former scout-master was speaking about the boy as an eagle scout, the badges he earned, the trouble he got into. He choked up as he was speaking, and at several points had to stop and cry. There were a lot of tears. I don't know how you begin to mourn for a twenty-four year old, someone barely on the cusp of adult life.
The Army sends a superior officer to each funeral of a fallen soldier to speak. This sergeant was a woman. I was impressed (and surprised, I admit) by how sensitive and thoughtful she was. She quoted Joseph Campbell and spoke about heroism. The part that felt creepy was when she thanked the family for their "sacrifice." If it had been my brother, son or husband, I would have screamed, "It was not my choice to sacrifice this beautiful man for this stupid war!" But I'm not in their shoes. I held Christopher's hand and the whole congregation stood up to honor her.
They presented the mother and widow with two posthumous medals. All was done formally and stiffly by officers in full dress uniform, in silence broken only by muffled weeping. The reception afterward was hosted by Blue Star mothers, women whose children are serving in the military. When a soldier is killed his or her mother becomes a Gold Star mother. I talked with one of the Blue Star mothers and asked so many questions that she asked me if I had a child in the military. No, I said, I am writing a play about soldiers and their relationships with their mothers.
She lit up and said I could come to a meeting. I said I wouldn't want to intrude and she said, Oh no, we would love to talk to you about our experiences. For my part, I am excited and a little nervous --in a good way. The nervousness of crossing an important threshold.