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A Mending Gesture
I could feel the organ’s music in my ears, passing by the church on my way to nowhere.
Its’ music was strangely comforting, yet unsettling, too. My head started to bob back in forth with the notes that permeated the church’s walls and traveled down to the heathens walking along beside the house of the Lord. The allure was so fascinating to me, but I mentally shook my head and continued on and away from town. Churches had hurt my soul so much in the past, I quit going years ago.
All the attendees, I was sure that they did not care about the lonesome individuals walking the snowy streets that late Sunday morning. The faÃ§ade was transferring itself from generation to generation in that church just like all the others. I kicked up a pile of snow in my frustration. How could such a God allow his so-called children act in the way so many of them did?
When I was just a mere child, my first visit to a church occurred as a funeral service. My father passed away during the Gulf War while trying to expel Iraqis from Kuwait. Friendly-fire was the summed up version of his cause of death. As a six year old in 1991, I did not understand the reality of his death until later when I figured out that “Daddy” would never return from the Middle East to take me up in his warm arms, watch me play baseball, or share those father-son moments I would never have the opportunity to experience. He had given his life, his everything, in that war, and what did my mother and I get besides misplaced words of consolation?
And it had all started at that fateful church funeral, supposedly commemorating my father’s service to his thankless country. My mother was just able to restrain herself from walking out because of meâ€”she didn’t want to hurt her child who could not completely comprehend what was happening.
I felt a pang of grief resound in my chest, and clutched my jacket where my heart should be located just beneath it, my skin, and the overlaying muscles. Remembering this, even now that sixteen years lay between my father’s death and the present time, still caused sorrow to my spirit. It lay there locked in a cage, its host still unwilling to unlock the deadbolt that would allow it to let out the enslaved feelings it had held for so long.
Just then, a bell resonated a ways behind me, and my feet pulled me around in the half-foot of snow as if I possessed no control over them. The sounds had reverberated from that wretched little chapel house. A grimace found its way onto my face; that is, until I noticed out of the corner of my eye a flash of camouflage. I blinked and rubbed my eyes, not wanting to believe what I so thought in my mind. There was no way in heaven a soldier could go to these ungrateful places of worship, right? I asked myself that question, not able to understand, as if I was child again.
My legs carried me back towards the church in autopilot, passing around strangers like I was a ghost in this world. I felt called to it for some reason, and I believed that to be for a simple truth that I definitely had not seen a military person come out of that building. As I loomed closer, however, I learned that my eyes had never deceived my brain, no matter how much I wished at that moment they had because of how it so affected me.
Conflict arose within my battered soul as I observed the soldiers (yes, there were actually more than one, even!) chatting outside with several regular citizens. None of them took notice of me, however, as I conveniently watched their shushed conversations from behind a few well placed foliage. I could not hear them from my location, so I was left with their expressions to follow and try to grasp with the little I knew of how to read body language.
The breaths that flowed out of my mouth formed tangibly in the air, but I was too into the phenomenon that was taking place right in front of my eyes to see how those spurts of discolored air could attract someone’s attention. The army men and women appeared to be loose and comfortable where they were, as too did the citizens. What was going on here? I wondered absentmindedly, mesmerized by the event unfolding before me.
Scattered memories of my father ventured into the front of my mind, and I could not remember any time during his memorial people being this nice to my mother and me. In all truth, even as “little tyke” (as my uncles and aunts used to love calling me), I knew that none of the public who had gone to his funeral out of alleged respect really cared about what he did for all of them. He went to war and died in a foreign country, and a couple of medals were all he truly received for his heavy undertaking.
A sudden hand clasping onto my shoulder brought me back into the present. I gasped and was met with the low chuckle of an elderly man.
“Please accept my sincerest apologies, young man,” he said. He feebly lifted up his free right arm and pointed at the people I had been viewing so shamefully from behind the greenery. “I was just wondering; if I may ask, what about those individuals caught your attention?”
Biting my tongue, I searched for an answer that would satisfy the old man, but after a few moments of no vocalization on my part, he patted my shoulder and said, “You know, I go to that church with all of them. I just happened to see you as I was walking by on my way home.”
I slowly turned my head towards him, and he smiled at me. Wrinkles adorned his face, but he held a youthful air about him. I made out the presence of dog tags hanging from his neck, and I inadvertently gestured to them with my eyes.
“Oh, these?” he commented, picking them up in the palm of his hand to show me. “I decided to dig these out from my Vietnam War box in my wife and I’s closet. Tomorrow is Veterans Day; I presume you realized that?” My eyes lit up in swift recognition. How could I have forgotten that of all days?
“We were just recognizing all the people who have served in the armed forces this church service, and we were fortunate enough to have a group of newly returned soldiers who served in Iraq visit here,” he remarked with a hint of joy in his tone. “I am so glad that they were able to make itâ€”that’s them over there, those people you were watching in uniform.”
The older man gave my shoulder a quick squeeze and said, “Well, it was nice meeting you…”
“Yes, Mac. I hope you got what you were wanting,” he finished. And with a weak wave, he disappeared from my sight in just a few moments as snow started to fall to the ground again.
The complexity of everything I had been mulling over vanished when I turned around to lay my gaze on the soldiers and the regular people another time. But then, unexpectedly, I had a revelation come to mindâ€”when I really started to think about it, the soldiers were citizens, too. We were all one at the moment, even though I physically stood several feet away from their small group. These people were all thankful for one another’s mutual support, at home and away.
I felt a stray tear of happiness leak out of my watery eyes as my healing began.