oh my goodness.
how to summarize the life of a man in a service that contains just sixty minutes of time? how to summarize those sixty minutes here?
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ok so i'm listening to daniel's audio recording of dad's service to try to snag a piece of it to share with you. to get some sort of focus, some sort of place to begin.
i'm following along with pastor ron's warm welcome, then pastor short's inspired opening prayer. so far, so good. i'm catching a sense of where i might want to go. once daniel can show me how to rewind his fancy program, i'll be able to roll up my sleeves and get to work.
and then, pastor short's prayer is over. and the long pause begins. at first i'm thinking we've arrived at the obvious, necessary quiet as one speaker steps away and the next walks forward to begin. but the long pause continues. and continues. and continues. i notice the silence gradually, as at first i'm filled with my meandering thoughts, this new insight i'm discovering as i consider what i've just heard, in these moments that have passed. poetry is hidden within every heartfelt effort to honor a man. in time the silence overtakes my thoughts and a sense of immediacy strikes. i speak to my mind, come on karen! you were there! you can do this! remember....what comes after the prayer?
and now i remember. the air force honor guard. and all of a sudden, it's happening again, in real time in my mind, as the silence continues.
i see eight men march up the center aisle of the chapel, slowly, heads held high. their steps are crisp, their uniforms a picture of perfection. 15 steps and they arrive at the front on the chapel. in a single smooth motion all eight men stop. then turn to their left. five steps more and they are at the foot of dad's casket. the four airmen on the right begin their steps to align themselves behind dad's casket. the four on the left begin their steps to align themselves in front of dad's casket. somehow, my mind has skipped a beat: now all eight are facing dad's casket. it happened, dreamlike, through some sort of secret language these men share; with one simple, crisp command each of them know how to move their legs, their torsos, their arms, ther hands. and what about their heads? well their heads, they never move. but always they are balanced beautifully, setting the tone of their bodies' entire posture: not forward, not back, not up not down. just perfectly centered. it's the only message the military knows how to send: singular focus, never waver, always calm, always sure. dignity, respect. awareness, gratitude for those who have come before. faithfulness to their fallen.
and now the flag. they pick it up and begin the most elaborate ceremony i've ever witnessed in my life. as a child, dad taught me and my sister this cool folding thing. we folded anything we could get our hands on this way. although sheets and towels are always fair game, my baby doll blankets work best for my little fingers. and, clearly, most worthy of the time it takes to do it right. i love to guess at the perfect place to create the folds so that my finished product is always the proper size. and then creating the triangle: once i get the first fold right, the rest is easy. slow down, i say to myself, and be a little more careful. never rush or it will look sloppy in the end. flip over, flip up, flip over, flip down. no matter how slowly i go, this part is always over too soon. i think it's really my favorite part. ok, looks like i've done it right so far, i have a perfect triangle without a single lump. and now i tuck the blanket's excess edge back into my bundle. how is it that there's this perfect little slot that fits just right the length of the blanket i need to tuck away? keep it slow...if i speed up now, i'll just have to pull it out and start the tuck again. i learn to pull and straighten kind of in one smooth motion, so the edges are sure to lay flat. and now, to top it off, i place my hands, one on top of my triangle, one on the bottom, and i just kinda pat it. pat it here, pat it there. and then....well then, i'm off. off to my next girlish adventure. i know this thing is special, this cool folding thing that dad's taught me and my sister to do. and every time i do it, i do it purposefully, carefully. sometimes i feel impatient inside myself, because it's not like me to be slow doing anything. but somehow, i know it's just the way it's done. but now, i'm finished and i'm ready to run. i never stop to ask dad why to be slow. and why a perfectly smooth triangular bundle is so significant.
now i know why. because it becomes the most beautiful, precious gift the military knows to give the widow of a man who has has served his country well. words cannot describe. my eyes can only shed their tears.
and now i hear the tap of the shoes as the airmen turn and march out the door. click, click, click, click.
and now the guns, saluting dad. one. two. three.
and now the trumpet begins.
i sing in my heart the words that closed every girl scout meeting i had as a child:
Day is done,
gone the sun,
From the hills,
from the lake,
From the skies.
All is well,
God is nigh.
and now, the celebration service begins.
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whew. if we could have all put the day on pause, we would have, each of us, right then and there. and we would have gone home, kissed the ones we love, and thanked the good Lord for a day well done.
perhaps that's what we'll do tonight.
all is well, safely rest.