He was just one of many teenagers in the neighborhood that I saw walking home from school every day. Our resident Eagle Scout. One of my lasting memories is seeing him perched at the top of a very high ladder each Spring as he removed huge storm windows for the elderly man across the street. One of the many tasks younger men are called to do for older, less nimble men in a neighborhood or nation.
He was a well-loved boy of privilege, with a successful attorney for a father and a PTA mom. He ran track and played soccer in that little town on the prairie. He was kind and quiet and bright and destined to do good and honorable things in life. A good boy from a good family.
He joined the National Guard when he left the little town on the prairie for a city an hour west where he planned to complete a degree and eventually follow in the footprints of his father. But a crazy thing happened on the way to the rest of his life.
He became a soldier. When his Guard unit was called up, he traded his Concordia sweatshirt in for Desert Camouflage and deployed to the Middle East. His Mom hung a banner with a single blue star on it in the window of their stately, red, brick Colonial. That star served as a constant reminder to those of us with younger children to be more patient, more grateful, more prayerful because a mother we knew was waiting, waiting, waiting for her own, bigger boy to come back to her. We measured our days with our sons differently that year knowing that her days were measured in heartbeats and evening news reports.
On the day he returned to her, I sat in a high school gymnasium filled to overflowing while a marching band played songs about stars and stripes and rockets bursting in air. Then I listened to the warm-up act of politicians preaching about war and peace and sacrifices they didn’t make. When the members of this boy’s unit finally marched in, I searched the perfect rows for him, first.
And then I looked for his mother.
There are moments in life frozen in time. Seeing the expression on another mother’s face after a year of fervent prayer and constant worry as she catches sight of her son’s is one. There is no word in the English language that can describe that look. There should be. That kind of look should have a name.
I do not pretend to know why some families are called to make the sacrifices that they do. I am grateful to those families. I am grateful for the veterans like my father, my uncle, and my father-in-law who served their country. And I’m grateful for my young neighbor’s service, too.
And then, there are the mothers like the one I saw that day in the gym. The one with the star in her window. You might know a mom like this, too, whose face describes feelings for which there are no words.
If you get a chance, be sure to thank her for her service, too.