Amazing Grace

I stood shoulder to shoulder that day with several members of the First United Church of Tampa, FL, a United Church of Christ (UCC) affiliate. I was surprised at the small turnout of people but those who showed up did so with great conviction and passion for the cause.

We were erecting the “Field of Flags”, a traveling memorial originating at the UCC in Somers, CT, for those who had died in the service of our country during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As of the time of this writing, January 2, 2008, we were tasked with planting 4,363 flags in the ground in honor of the men and women who had sacrificed their lives for those of us who had lost track of just how many that is.

Compared to past wars, this was a much less significant number due to the advances in life-saving equipment our soldiers wear now. They are more likely to lose their limbs than their lives, but for those who return home it is life-altering for them and their families and communities. The incidence of traumatic brain injury makes the numbers of wounded even higher.

I didn’t realize I knew anyone serving in Iraq at the time, yet that day I knew every one of them at least symbolically. As my hands and legs grew sore from the sheer exertion of impelling those flags into the ground for hours as the sticks balked when I tried to screw them into the sand, sometimes breaking clean off, I couldn’t help but think of those for whom we were contributing this effort.  It got warm out in the Florida sun, the warmest day yet that week, but all I could think about were the soldiers in the Middle East who were spending endless days, months, and even years, traversing the broiling sands in their heavy uniforms and pounds of equipment trying to find an enemy they can’t really identify for a cause they couldn’t quite explain. My efforts that day were lost in the shadows of the giants who were doing whatever they could in order to allow me to stand in the balmy Florida sunshine merely erecting a tribute to them. I felt so very small….

A young woman stopped in the parking lot when she saw what we were doing and inquired about it. When we told her that we were setting up a memorial as a reminder for the families of those who have given their lives in these wars, she told us that her brother had been the first Marine from the Tampa area to be killed in Afghanistan. It was then that the significance of what we were doing became clear as she thanked us for remembering him. I had often helplessly wondered how we could possibly convey to them the meaning of their loss to the rest of us but in some small measure, we were showing her and others that their sacrifice had not been not in vain. Whether we supported the intent of the war or not, no one who served or died there or anywhere on behalf of our country would ever be forgotten.

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The next day I paid further tribute to those warriors by polishing up my trumpet and playing a simple “Amazing Grace” across what became a far more astonishing field than I had anticipated. My father served in WWII and then devoted the rest of his life and ministry to this church by trying to find peaceful solutions to the conflicts that divide us. Every day I’d wondered how I might honor him and all of the thousands who gave the ultimate sacrifice for my sake and yours. Though my contribution may not involve giving my life, I hoped that it would give comfort to those who already have and yet will.

God bless the soldiers of our country who have been willing to do what is asked of them even if it means giving their lives. The rest of us can only hope to have such courage and integrity.    

“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13

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  1. Katie
    December 8, 2008 at 3:42 pm

    That is very sweet! 🙂

  2. Ted
    May 27, 2010 at 10:24 pm

    Good girl on your decision to join those at a place of worship, and also to honor your fallen fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters who served our country and gave their most precious possession, their lives, to preserve our freedom. You have gone and done what I want to, but have not found the conviction to do. I will still wander about the woods and climb up to the peaks and paddle along the waters giving my thanks to Him, for allowing me on this planet, but have not found a place of worship yet that I will give my trust to while trusting in Him to one day guide me to it. I’m stumbling through the words, but I think you find my meaning just fine.

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