I’m getting slightly off track of my continued story today. Well, actually, it’s not far off track.
I suppose most everything I ever write from this summer forward will all be tied to my heartbreak somehow.
For the rest of my life.
How could it be any different?
I went to Walmart (of all places!) yesterday. Now I am asking myself what exactly was I thinking? It was so horribly busy and there were SO MANY people. So many cars in the parking lot and so much clamor and distraction.
And so many things in the aisles and the colors are blinding me this year and the music and the ringing of Salvation Army bells and I am channeling The Grinch in my mind just now because all I could hear was…
noise, noise, noise, noise, NOISE!
And as I rolled my cart through the aisles it really, really dawned on me that it’s Christmas.
Holy Cow. It’s Christmas.
Where have I been?
All along my youngest has been reminding me of the days of Christmas countdown and I have bought a few gifts and have done some of the ordinary things I usually do this time of year.
But I’ve done them while surrounded by this dark, dense fog.
I kept telling my youngest son that…poor boy. I kept saying Oh! My goodness, I am not ready. I am not ready for this. I found myself saying that out loud while I was in that Lego aisle and he was surveying the latest and greatest superhero sets. Kept saying it as we walked every inch of that awfully over commercialized store.
I am not ready.
(Does anyone else see how over the top extravagant and painfully merchandised it is? It literally made me want to vomit. Right there in the middle of the “who on earth would buy these horribly cheap plastic gadgets that will be broken in a moment and forgotten in an instant” aisle.)
What child who finally gets the reality these past few years that his Momma actually is Santa after all wants to hear that she is not ready? I’ll bet it put some trepidation and even a little panic in his heart.
I’m sorry, son. I am trying to wake up. I am trying to do my best to play along.
I did not say those particular words to him, but I think them just about every day. I pinch myself to make sure I’m still here.
When we finally rolled that cart out of that store…I had to ask my son what row? I cannot remember and we said it aloud when we locked up the car so we would not forget. I am relying on you now to help me remember.
Row 10. Yes. Row 10.
Well, wouldn’t you know that the pavement to Row 10 happened to be lined with cars. Backed up somehow for several car lengths and we had to be mindful to stay close to the side.
I could see that the reason for the backup was that the lead car had stopped. The driver rolled down his window and waved toward someone getting into his car. A car that was parked in a handicap spot.
I watched as an elderly man walked toward the waving hand and shook it. Said a few words. By that time I was close enough to touch him if I wanted…so I waited as he turned toward his parked car.
Then I saw it. The ball cap on his head. It was heavily decorated with pins and patches and other things signifying some kind of hero. I looked at his jacket and sure enough. A veteran. An Army veteran. World War Two Hero.
Now…to add to this story, you have to know that it was only a few short days prior that I posted on my Facebook feed a story about how important it is to thank our military men. How as a Momma of an Army veteran it’s the most honorable thing to stop right in your tracks no matter what you are doing and shake his/her hand. Offer Praise and Thanksgiving.
So as he turned from that car (whose driver, by the way, stopped to tell this man thank you…thank you for your service and sacrifice to our country) and walked toward his own I stopped him, too.
I want to thank you, too. Thank you for serving.
I looked into the face of a man who was well into his late eighties, I’d say. Beautiful, faded gray eyes that were rimmed with the sagging pink of age and shielded by thick bifocals. Face spotted by years under the sun.
The smile on his lips showed how much he drank in these words of thanks as if they were the finest wine he had ever tasted.
He was unabashedly honored.
He leaned on his tripod cane to steady himself.
Then began telling about all of his honors.
Two purple hearts, this medal, that medal, this award, that..I wish I could remember them all just now…but my mind only embraced two purple hearts. There were so many and his voice had such a proud melody to it as he listed each one out loud.
(The tune of The Twelve Days of Christmas ran through my head as he recounted them to me. I get this way when things become too overwhelming to comprehend. I think of quirky things like this. It saves me.)
Something took me over just then.
I remembered how I was just thinking that very morning about how Michael would never grow old.
Oh! Just the idea of that alone is enough to buckle the knees of this Momma.
I have been thinking a lot lately how Michael will not enjoy the fruits of his labor. He would never savor the benefits of his hard earned retirement. He won’t be wearing decorated ball caps in Walmart parking lots with people stopping to thank him and causing a traffic jam.
My son will not grow old.
And I said something that I really didn’t intend to, but it came tumbling out all the same.
I buried my boy this summer, Sir. And my boy was an Army soldier. Just like you. But he served in Iraq.
The look on this man’s face after hearing this was one of all too familiarity. Recognition.
Yes, I am sure he has heard that a million and one times in his life.
I am sure he has seen so many soldiers buried in his day.
Just then something quite beautiful happened. He took hold of my hand. His knuckles all knobby with wear and the skin over his fingers soft and thin. His grip still so strong and sure.
He leaned into me. Laid his cheek right up against mine. Kissed it.
I made myself be so very present right then. Waited a long, long sacred second feeling his whiskers against my face. I can still smell the scent of simple soap and a little worn down aftershave.
I drank in the smell of this old Army Hero. Felt the years of service pulse through my aching head and run all through my body.
I closed my eyes and tried to feel my son. What it would be like to press my face against my boy as if he were an old man. As if he were an old Army Vet full of pride and gratitude. Recounting his days. Listing his honors.
I gave his cheek a kiss in return.
He then told us of how he was from TX, too. And not long ago was interviewed by some big magazine. About how it was now cataloged in the Library of Congress.
Imagine that! He said. My words in the Library of Congress!
Congratulations! Well deserved. Well deserved, I have no doubt.
With that, I pushed the cart forward. I was fighting the tears. I did not want to cry. Because if I did I knew I would not stop.
As we reached our car I heard a voice from behind me call out to that Army Vet. I turned around to see someone else stop him in his tracks. Tell him thanks. I watched a little as the old man sang out his medals again.
There was yet another person lagging behind this story to hear it again.
My sweet, sweet son then put his hand on my back. My thirteen year old has this way of comforting his Momma this way. He simply lays his hand on my back. Leaves it there for a minute or two.
It became so remarkable to me. This encounter.
Of all the decorations…of all the Christmas glitz, the clamor, and the noise.
I had been in the presence of all Veterans just then. My son, included.
The pins and patches far lovelier and more festive than any ornament on any tree.
Etched somehow in a cosmic Brotherhood. Each and every man/woman who has ever served or will or who still serves in our military represents them all.
A forever song. Whether dead or alive.
A priceless gift.