WHAT BINDS US - 24 AUGUST 2012
Mom's Gravesite - St. John's Episcopal Church, Fort Washington, Maryland
I'm on the way back from an unexpected trip to the east coast. A friend lost his struggle with lukemia a week ago causing his friends and family to gather in Northern Virginia just south of Washington DC. I flew out on Wednesday and spent the night at my cousin's in Baltimore then traveled yesterday to the service. Along the way, I diverted about five miles to visit the gravesites of my parents, Tom and Keiko. They're buried at our old family church which has a fabulously rich colonial history.
My mom lost her battle with cancer over 35 years go. While not the same disease as my friend, the battle was the same. Struggle was a part of their lives 'till the end.
During the service, the reverend who presided over the service made an association I hadn't really considered before. He associated the struggle in the presence of god, is what connects us.
In his talks about our friend, commitment to family, god, and work, there was this constant struggle and it was very obvious. My friend always did the "right thing" even when it was unpopular. Even if there was a struggle to it. He always did it. Why? Of couse, most of us have no idea why we do what we do. Some of us just "do" which sometimes isn't the right thing at all. But, some of us just have faith what we do is right even though it might not make the most rational sense or even be the feel good path. I've said before, when you're on this path that's between rational sense and feeling, you're with god. It's that path "between". What I hadn't considered is struggle is precisely what brings us together.
Adversity is always a part of our lives. Try as we might to make things easier or smoother, the challenge is always there. It's the part of life we can't avoid. Those of us who've experienced similar challenges, who've seen defeat and brought back victory. Or, even been to the bottom of an abyss and then recovered, there's a connection. The struggle binds us. The struggle connects us. The struggle defines us.
Those of us who've experienced the same challenges and difficulties are bound without words. We're bound by an experience and we're connected.
There were a couple hundred at my friends service. Many of us had served together in the Air Force on a tiny little island in the West Pacific. Most of us are connected by that shared experience, we're bound to each other.
As most fighter pilots, our group's tradition was to sing songs on Friday nights. Most of them have bawdy lyrics and definitely are inappropriate for this forum. One song isn't like that at all. It's a favorite from at least the Vietnam War. And, it's probably the first song I ever learned in my first fighter squadron almost 30 years ago. "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" was the closing hymm at this service. The lyrics talk of the chariot "...coming for to carry me home". When we sang, in our bar on Friday nights, we sang with hand gestures to go along with the words. We made gestures like making a teepee on top of our heads to represent "home" or feigning a dice throw as if we where throwing on the Come-Line for the word "coming". This day we didn't. We were much restrained by being in the church. But, we all wanted to. We all did because that's what you do when you sing that song with your brother pilots.
As I stood in the church among my old squadron mates, another was played the piano. In humble and respectful tones, we sang that song to send our mate off to his future. As we sang the words, a wave of warmth flowed over me with the sense of connection I had with all those singing. I felt connected by the common struggle we endured with those we lost before, the one we lost this week, and to all those still here. To me it was a feeling of being close to god. It's a feeling I hadn't been privileged to have in a very long time. It was a perfect end to a very impactful service. The last thing I did was stand at my buddy's remains and said a silent prayer to see him down the road.
We spent the rest of the day telling stories about our lost comrade. I think his boys learned a few things about their dad they hadn't heard before. It makes me happy to add to the mystery of their dad. It's something I had precious little from my own dad's experiences when he served. I left the gathering without a regret and now sit in the airport with a firm grasp of the bond that connects us all. I am deeply honored to have such a connection which makes me happy beyond words.
To Bam Bam!