Insomnia is my constant companion as I wait anxiously for the arrival of each day. Longingly, I gaze out my window upon the vestiges of last year’s garden. The ailanthus trees sway in unison to the breeze as if it were a hymn from heaven. A year has almost passed. Spring and planting time are almost here. He’ll be home soon.
In the pre-dawn light, I catch the silhouette of the bench where we sat amid the flowering dogwoods. My memories transport me to another time. I close my eyes and breathe in deeply imagining the fragrant smell of lilacs and narcissus.
I vividly remember that day last spring when he surprised me in the garden. The mid-day sun beat down on me as I planted seeds for the summer. “Can you take a break?” he asked as he offered me a glass of lemonade.
“Thanks, I could use a break. I’m thirsty.” I wiped the sweat from my brow as he helped me to my feet. “I think I’ve done enough for today.”
I can still see the anticipation on his face and the guarded hint of fear as he led me to the old oak bench. We sat in silence at first staring at the blossoms. A dove landed at the garden’s edge, paced back and forth, then quickly flew out of sight.
I was almost afraid to speak and end the peaceful silence sensing that he had something serious to tell me. It was unlike me to keep quiet, yet I stalled, delaying the inevitable. I cherished each moment I had with him, capturing each glimpse as a photograph in my mind.
I dared not to look directly into his eyes but when I did, I saw the tears welling up. He gently held my face in his hands and confessed, “I’m shipping out for Iraq tomorrow. I’ll be gone a year.” The words stung like the prick of my heart impaled on thorns of a bleeding rose.
“You are my son, my only child, why are you doing this?”
“Because I must,” he answered. His arms engulfed me trying to comfort me when there was no consolation. “For you and for all of us. I have to do what I feel is right. Can’t you understand? I need to do this.”
I wept, burying my head in the warmth of his chest. “Don’t you know I need you? I can’t bare for you to go.” I felt as if someone had thrust a dagger into my soul. His hand stroked my hair as I often did to comfort him when he was a child.
Finally, he pulled me away from him and stared directly into my eyes. “Mother, I love you. I know you have faith. You have more faith than anyone I’ve ever known. God won’t let anything happen to me. You have to believe that. I need to have you be strong for both of us. Can you do that for me?”
I embraced him. I felt like he was no longer a young man but rather a child in my arms. I was trying to protect him from the world, the dangers of life, and I wouldn’t let go. I feared that this would be the last time I would ever feel him close to me.
I pleaded with God to keep my son safe. Michelangelo’s sculpture, the Pieta, briefly flashed in my mind. I pictured my son slain, lying draped over my legs while my tears drenched his lifeless body. I wondered if I felt the same as Mary did when Jesus embarked on his perilous mission.
Then I opened my eyes and viewed the rolling hills in the distance. They were so lush and verdant with life. I traced their outline against the bright blue sky until they disappeared in the horizon. I knew they traveled on endlessly far beyond my present vision was capable to see.
I remembered a passage from Psalms 121:1–2, 7–8 (KJV) “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth. The Lord shall preserve thee from evil; he shall preserve thy soul. The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore.”
Slowly I nodded in acceptance. Peace flooded my soul. “It will be okay, “ I reassured my son, “and so will you.”
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