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America, Where Are You Now?

He was old school.

Wearing nothing but a simple button-down shirt and blue jeans he walked to the back of the café and sat at a chair in the corner. He ordered a home-style meal and ate quietly, watching the patrons who passed through the doorways of the family-run eatery, subtle nods the only form of recognition needed. He noticed it all and said nothing.

The street that fronted this well-worn establishment was hometown for generations of children growing older as they walked past the never-changing storefronts with telltale signs of a habitual life clinging to the window sills and walls behind the cash registers that had seen the dollar bill become a dollar coin.

America.

At the end of the sidewalk, just before it turned sharply to the left into an abandoned lot that once housed the local lawnmower repair shop, stood a monument to the veterans of wars meant to secure the lifestyles of this and all other small town communities which had sent their finest to defend their nation’s honor. Monthly meetings of the local VFW troop meant a changing of the fresh flower wreaths that adorned the granite rock bearing the names of local heroes who gave their lives for a worthy cause.

America.

He paid his tab and slowly rose to walk through the café’s doorways and amble across the street to the quiet church nestled back from the sidewalk; finely manicured lawn and gardens separating it from cars driving past, passengers too busy to notice the small clock ticking away minutes of life on the steeple rising through the heavy oaks standing as sentinels to peace for nearly a century.

America.

The doors to the chapel stood open, beckoning entry into the quiet sanctuary where wreathes stood on small metal pedestals, and baskets of flowers framed photographs, a well-worn uniform and mementos from a childhood still fresh in the memory of a family who cared.

America.

He walked quietly to the far end of a pew near the front of the room, removing his cap and placing it carefully in the space next to him. He was a caring man, but private as well and would prefer the space as he faced his emotions, thoughts and fears. He stared at the altar, slowly shaking his head in seeming disbelief at what reality presented as glaring truth in the most simple, yet dramatic of ways.

America.

As he bowed his head in a moment of silent resolve, the pews surrounding him slowly filled, and the echoes from an empty hall of spirit became echoes of sadness, grief and pride juxtaposed against the backdrop of tradition, history and the American flag draped across a maple box laying in somber silence before him–an effect of reality he had hoped to avoid.

America.

The chapel doors closed, the lights were dimmed and the pastor stood in quiet attention behind the maple box, beckoning with raised hands for the attention of the people, and the community voice lifted in reverence as the strains of the familiar “amazing grace” rose through the core of the steeple and into the cloudless sky above so that even those few people standing in the gardens outside could feel the presence of peace, not clearly understanding its origin yet hoping it would remain for a time.

America.

Tears were soon flowing, and he did his best to keep his to himself. There was so much he remembered but was so afraid to share, as if to open his thoughts to others would send the wall tumbling down–a wall that had taken oh, so long to build. He was fairly certain he would not be able to bear the heartache of having to face what was hidden on the other side. Friends and family stood in quiet praise of a life far too short and dreams unfulfilled. Personal witness was given to the strength of commitment, duty and honor represented in the actions of a boy who had become a man all too quickly, and would now never know just how grown he had become in the short time he had to live.

America.

He held his head in his hands, breathing slowly to give himself the strength he needed to look toward the maple box for one last meaningful glance before the moment was over and he slowly rose again to leave, aching to be allowed to remain for far longer in a sanctuary that hid every fear he had in the safety of the kinship he felt with the memory of a life in a box, wrapped in a flag that meant so much more than he believed any in the real world could understand.

America.

As he left the peace of a building created out of humanity’s search for meaning, he found himself wrapped in the sunlight which found its way through the massive oaks standing guard on either side of the neatly landscaped steps. Warm hands took his, and gentle arms pulled him to a quiet embrace from people he had never met, but who seemed to understand more than he had known others would. Standing together, this community of people meeting for the first time expressed a resolve to carry on–their purpose defined by the actions of a boy who had become a man far too soon.

America.

This small community, drawn together in grief, found strength in the traditions, the values and the history for which one simple life had been given.

This small community refused to give in to the bitter hatred that sought to embrace it, choosing instead to find hope in the sacrifice one of their own had made.

This small community reached out with pride for all he had stood for–all he had fought for–all he had lived for and all he had died for.

America.

Where are you now?
MONICA BENDERMAN is the wife of Sgt. Kevin Benderman, an Iraq war veteran who served over a year in prison as a Conscientious Objector having refused further participation in the immoral, unethical action of war. Please visit www.BendermanDefense.org to learn more. Kevin and Monica may be reached at mdawnb@coastalnow.net

 

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