Sometimes you’re just bumping along through the day when you see something that stops you in your tracks and stays on your mind for the rest of the day. An image that’s so powerful it pushes itself to the front of the line every time you try to put your thoughts in order. An image that provokes emotion against your will. An image that steals your focus all day long.
I was tooling along a two lane road, headed to a small store way out in the country. This store is apparently the only place in this area that still has in stock the item I need for a work project. Thank goodness for the little man who manages to hold his own against the big boxes. He always has what you need when the retail giants don’t. Despite the bitter temperatures, I was enjoying a break from the office and a drive in the country. The sun was bright, and the radio tunes were peppy. I was smiling at the wide array of garden statues in one yard and thinking perhaps zoning isn’t always such a bad thing when I saw something just ahead. Two “somethings” actually. Two crosses sitting next to each other in the middle of a front yard. A tall flagpole stood behind them, and while I went by them too fast to get a good look at them, I sensed they had a somber purpose. They didn’t seem to be like those crosses you see along the road where someone died in a car wreck. They seemed different. I made a mental note to slow down on the return trip and take a closer look.
Both were the same size and bore separate names; names of soldiers. One was a sergeant, the other was a private. One cross was lettered in red paint, the other in black. They were surrounded by small flags and flanked by a large white star on a nearby wall of the house. The flagpole held a large American flag and a state flag. There was a lot of red, white and blue in that yard. I’m guessing those crosses represent soldiers serving in the war in Iraq or possibly Afghanistan…somewhere in harm’s way. Perhaps they even represent a soldier killed or wounded. Even though the radio was blaring Kelly Clarkson, it suddenly seemed very quiet. Those four sticks of wood had my full attention..for longer than I realized because it eventually dawned on me I was stopped in the road and just staring at those two crosses. I felt compelled to stay but knew I had to keep moving. I drove off wanting to know more.
Who were these soldiers? Were they siblings? Who erected the crosses? A mother? A father? A friend? Within the walls of that house was there a mother waiting on a son or daughter to come home from a strange land? Does she jump when the phone rings or stop often throughout the day to say a quick prayer for her child’s safety? Does she turn the TV on out of curiosity and then turn it off because of fear? Does her heart break for the other mothers in her same position? Who raises the flag in that front yard? Is it a father whose heart bursts with pride but aches with fear? Is he sad that war did not skip his child’s generation? Do debates over the war make him angry or just tired?
The debates make me angry AND tired. I’ve been mad about the war for so long, I had to quit following much news coverage of it. Every time I started talking about it I got mad..and loud…and started annoying everyone around me, so I tried not to think about it much. And I didn’t. For months I managed to push it out of my mind….until my drive past that house. But instead of getting mad, I simply felt…hmm…what’s the word I’m looking for? Small? Irresponsible? Yes, that’s it. Irresponsible for forgetting that I should always care because the folks affected by war are my neighbors and friends. Sprinkled throughout my community are people whose yards, doors and cars bear ribbons and other visual reminders to me and everyone else that this war affects real people. It’s not a faceless news story from which I can detach myself. The crosses by the road put me at a cross road. I will see them when I go to sleep tonight. I will probably see them a few months from now. I wish they didn't have to be there.
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