Written in 2012
It was really dark outside when I drove home tonight. Because of the cloud cover, even the moon seemed not to shine. The only lights visible were the (too many, as always) taillights of the cars in front of me on the highway and the occasional street lamps or neon glowing near the exit ramps. When I turned on to a side road through a wooded area, it got darker still. Had it not been for my headlights, I would have had to stop altogether. Sometimes darkness can be so overwhelming – and yet, despite its all-encompassing reach, it cannot overcome even a single light.
Several months ago, a Marine Sergeant with terminal cancer flew to Washington DC as a guest of a charitable organization that helps make last wishes possible. An avid history buff, his desire was to visit his nation’s capital before he died. On the day he toured Arlington National Cemetery, I had the privilege of accompanying him.
The first time I saw him was in his hotel lobby. Seated in a wheelchair, he looked frail and it was evident he was in a lot of pain. We wheeled him out to the van and assisted him in taking a seat. As soon as he was settled, he turned toward me. “Let me help you, chaplain,” he said as he reached his hand in my direction. His offer gave me momentary pause, but I accepted his kindness, taking his hand as I entered the vehicle.
On the way to the cemetery we drove past monuments and historic buildings. The Sergeant narrated our journey better than any tour guide, including the requisite corny jokes, so all of us might enjoy the trip as much as he.
At Arlington the stories continued, but with a more respectful tone. There were many graves he wanted to visit, especially those of Marines he admired.
By the time we arrived at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the Sergeant was visibly exhausted. In a rare gesture, he was permitted to be wheeled inside the area near the tomb reserved for the press. After a few minutes the announcement was made that we should all rise and remain standing during the changing of the guard. The Sergeant rose from his wheelchair. His whole body trembled with pain. “You may stay seated,” his escort advised.
“No Ma’am,” he said, “I cannot.”
From a distance I watched as this Marine stood in rapt attention, in honor of his fallen comrades.
When a light so filled with kindness, gentle humor, respect and honor shines this brightly, the darkness doesn’t stand a chance.
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