Waves roll gentle ….water, sky and sand swirl together like an iridescent pearl.
Hundreds are gathered, flags ripple in the breeze…. and truth be told, I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to be this close to death.
Fifty, maybe sixty Patriot Guard riders park their motorcycles and stand shoulder to shoulder along both sides of the highway. The escort riders appear, leading the procession of vehicles carrying the soldier’s family to water’s edge.
The father, in uniform, is a disabled veteran from the first gulf war. His eyes are set like steel in his warrior’s face. I am well acquainted with the warrior face and it always says the same thing …. “I will stand …I will press on”. How do you stand through this? We are here to support him …yet he’s the one shaking hands, giving hugs, thanking folks for coming. He is brave. Could I be this brave ….if I had to?
And I hate to admit this, but I can’t look into the mother’s eyes. Just her physical presence brings the crushing grief of losing a child into full view. Not just a child…. her only child. I refuse to consider her experience could ever be mine. Not my sons, no, not ever. And then I feel selfish and ashamed, relieved and sad all in one big crying mess…. I’m glad the sun is setting.
These soldier parents settle into the spot prepared for them. Their pastor prays…. a guitarist plays. This crowd I’m swallowed up in….this odd assortment of strangers, family and friends… has become a sea of flickering candlelight.
The Patriot Guard do what they do best… close ranks around us and seal off the entry point to the beach.
Bikers and flags… sea, sand and sky …wrap around like a blanket… this gathering of community….. struggling to say goodbye to a soldier son.