So, I sat at the gate with my knitting (the sock that will not die) and made some progress, drank my over-priced Starbucks confection, and people-watched.
Uh-oh. There's a hearse on the tarmac. There's an Army-person (I don't know anything about rank, but he was only a little younger than me. Age-wise, that could well translate into considerable rank.) standing very straight, wearing his dress uniform, and carrying a wrapped flag. Oh hell.
There was a precise and actually quite lovely ceremony while they put the casket onto the plane. The captain made a gentle and, I thought appropriate, announcement that our plane was carrying the remains of a fallen soldier and asked us to observe a moment of silence. There was another little ceremony as the body was removed in New York. Then presumably he was taken to his...mother...wife... children... family of some sort, and a different sort of ceremony could begin.
We ceremonialize the early stages of grief because we couldn't endure it any other way. We would just be crushed by it. I don't know anything about this soldier, other than the obvious fact that he died for nothing. I know a bit, though, about what's going on with the innocents left behind. It cannot help to know that their son (in this particular case, it was a son) died because of our President's willingness to look us in the eye and lie.
My thoughts turned, though, to the business, organizational end of this war-time death. There must be many soldiers like this man in the airport, whose job it is to accompany bodies, deliver folded flags, and give mothers and wives the "thanks of a grateful nation." There must be piles of crisply folded flags in plastic, for just this occasion. There must be warehouses full of caskets, I suppose. I know there's a mechanism for shipping a dead soldier's personal effects back home. I know this because my brother once told me that military personnel are told to sort through their things and ensure that there's nothing they DON'T want shipped home.
It would be foolish not to plan for the war-time ceremonies of death. It would be cruel to abandon them because we're overwhelmed by the numbers or appalled by the war itself. Yet, if someone ever hands me a folded flag -please God, forbid!- especially as a result of such a war as this, it will not help to hear that my loved one died defending his country. It would not help me to use these dignified ceremonies as a blindfold, to prevent us from seeing that the whole thing is a tragic farce. I would be enraged rather than comforted, if a flag were offered in such a spirit.
And, of course, it is offered in exactly that duplicitous spirit. Watching these ceremonies was literally the first time that it occurred to me that President Bush and Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney and all the war supporters didn't just lie to us. They lied to and abused the nation's military personnel also. And how utterly tragic to have such a man as your Commander in Chief, to whom you have promised your obedience.
Shame, shame on all of those war planners.
And to the family of this particular fallen soldier, whoever you are, I'm praying that your heart is not hardened and that you find some comfort, somehow. Bless your hearts, all of you.