The sanctuary was quiet, empty but for a single mother sitting alone. She was dressed in black, a lace-beaded veil covering her face.
The faint smell of lilies, roses and carnations from eight red, white and blue wreaths draped the air. The fragrant displays stood adjacent and on either side of an empty space before a marbled altar.
An afternoon sun, filtered by stained glass windows, fell upon an American flag that was folded into a neat triangle and resting upon the woman’s lap. Atop that, a Medal of Honor.
Motionless, the woman listened to the quite murmurs of voices coming from a distant reception room where friends and family had gathered after her son’s burial.
She glanced at the vacant space before the altar; its emptiness tearing her heart. She clutched the flag holding it as a talisman against the pain. Tears came, chocked with sobs. Trembling, she bowed her head asking God why.
Footsteps sounded in the aisle. A figure, hat in hand, dressed in an Army uniform, stopped and whispered. “Mrs. Carlyle?”
She looked up. “Yes?”
“I’m Jim Davis - Jimmy. I served with your son in Afghanistan.” He paused. “I was with him when he died.” His words hung in the air. “May I sit with you a moment?”
She nodded and he slid in next to her. Both remained looking forward to the empty space between the wreaths. “I...I never know what to say at a time like this. I’m so sorry.”
She smiled faintly. “I understand; thank-you.”
He began softly. “We were on patrol, ran into an ambush. Danny saw them first, yelled out, and pushed me out of the way. He saved my life.”
Unconsciously, her fingers traced the word Valor, inscribed over the Medal of Honor.
“Danny, well I considered him my best friend. He was a good man, Mrs. Carlyle.”
She fought tears, clinching the flag.
“Even though I never met you, I feel like I know you – from the letters you sent to Danny.
“The letters - they meant a lot to him. I don’t have a family of my own; so he shared them with me.” He drew a deep breath. “To be honest, ma’am I was a real screw up before I joined the Army. I wanted to change, really wanted to, and thought maybe the military would help.” He shrugged. “Short story is it didn’t. It was you.”
“By the letters you wrote him; especially the last couple of months.
Outside, a shadow crossed the stained-glass window. It was but a flicker, possibly a bird winging its way home.
Her voice wavered. “Then you know I was concerned about his relationship with Christ.”
“Yes, ma’am and because of that we started talking about it. Some of your letters talked about choices - how we’re free to choose.
You wrote something else, too. Something about if, Christianity is just made up, isn’t it still better than the real world? You said a man has to believe in something - real or not. And that if Christianity is just made up, wasn’t it still better than the real world.”
Misery was all around us in the desert, Mrs. Carlyle – but there was a peace, too. Made real, but separate by what you wrote in your letters. Misery and peace, there at the same time – both real. Anyway, we knew that the misery in the desert was not the kind of reality either of us wanted to believe in.
“You wrote down a verse from the Bible and said if we believed it and confessed it out loud we could live in the Christian world – a better world of hope and love. A world others might choose to not believe in, but we could.”
His voice lowered to a whisper. “I wanted you to know that Danny and I both made that choice. A few days before that ambush - we gave our lives to Christ.”
Relief came in audible sobs as she clutched the flag to her face. “It’s okay,” he comforted. “He asked me to tell you; and not to worry.” His voice became vaporous. “Our way of saying thank-you.”
It became quiet; she looked up to find the soldier gone. Her eyes searched the sanctuary. Soft murmurs from the reception area met her ears. “Plane over the Atlantic…Jimmy Davis…no survivors…double tragedy…”
She turned her face into the stained light coming through the window. A shadow crossed outside. It was but a flicker, possibly a bird winging its way home.
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