Thank you, Master Sergeant Keys. I made a deal with you and you upheld your end of the bargain. I hope I did as well.
Last December, I got the call from my son that he was heading to Afghanistan within six weeks. Our family rallied and within a few hours all of us had plane reservations from Chicago, Portland and San Francisco bound for Raleigh at Christmas. We plan well, we travel light. Ten days later my husband and I flew from San Francisco to Raleigh with a connection in Texas, and that’s when I met you.
When your body inside a flag-draped military casket was boarded into the belly of our aircraft at the Dallas-FortWorth airport, we stood at the airport window and watched. I secretly cursed the gods and the Universe that they would present such folly to a mother about to say good-bye to her son going off to war. We were informed by the gate attendant that after years of military service, you were on your final journey home. She asked us to remain silent until the entire ritual had ended, and we did. Along with all the other travelers headed to Raleigh, I watched the honor guard salute your casket, then lift it onto the conveyor belt as it slowly made its journey into the hold. Little boys, dressed in their winter coats and mittens, saluted you. Mothers wept. One man leaned his forehead against the window and his tears fell onto the metal floor. The entire gate area was quiet. Even shrill sounds of footsteps from passersby didn’t interrupt the respectful silence.
That’s when I made a deal with you. If I rode on that plane of yours and held your spirit safely, then I was going to hold you responsible for watching over my boy going off to war. It wasn’t a fair trade, I know, but little in life is. And it seemed like you were up for it. Otherwise, the Universe wouldn’t have played such a twisted coincidence card.
My work took a lot less time, but I tell you, it exhausted me. It was only a three hour ride but I concentrated the entire time on your final ride home. I held my palms upward as if to capture whatever spirit or energy of yours might land around me. I ignored the flight attendant’s offer of drinks. I kept my feet planted on the floor and focused on you. I wanted you to know I was there, with you, the whole way home. I wanted your family to know someone was keeping watch and holding the light on your last journey. So I breathed, closed my eyes for much of the ride, prayed and meditated. I kept thoughts of you and your intentions in and around me.
You served two tours in Iraq. The picture on your obituary shows a man wearing a beret. As a little girl I remember a song during the Vietnam war about America’s best wearing the Green Beret. Only last week did I find out you were one. You served long and well, you won medals and you were killed in a free-fall training accident in Arizona. I didn’t know your history then, when I made our deal, but I felt complete faith in you, which is close to what most religions try to teach.
Nineteen minutes ago I received a text from my boy that he had just landed on home soil. His tour is over, he is out of Afghanistan, he is back home. He begins “debriefing” for the next few weeks, which is then followed by R&R.
And I am breathing again. My breath is tingling into parts of my torso I haven’t felt for a long time. When we’re in worry we probably never fully breathe. For the last eleven months I’ve been holding my breath but now, thanks to you, Master Sergeant Keys, my boy is home. That plane ride of ours when I was breathing and holding the space for you on your final journey? I can feel that breath again. I thank you not only with all my heart, but with all the breath that flows. I’ll write your momma and let her know. She lost her heart last December, and mine just burst.
(From the blog, "Emma Tedsen" http://emmatedsen.wordpress.com/)