My brother decided to join the military just a few weeks after 9/11. I was beyond proud (of course), frightened (obviously), and completely inconsolable when he was deployed through Christmas.
That Christmas I thought about him a hundred times a day. Was he sad? Did he have any friends over there so he didn’t feel alone? Did he think we were happy and joyful, drinking our hot chocolate, wrapping gifts, and had forgotten about him? Did he think about us as often as we thought about him?
For those of you who have followed me for a while, you know I’m not ‘breakdown in public’ kind of gal. But that year, I had an absolute meltdown while attending our church’s Christmas concert.
The church was beautifully decorated. The overhead lights were dimmed down low so that the Christmas lights and candles sparkled and shined. I was mesmerized by the season, grateful to be surrounded by my church family, and feeling the spirit of the holiday, until….
A wonderful lady stood up on the stage and began to sing, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”
It was beautiful. Her singing was gorgeous. Call me naive, but “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” was one of those songs I’d listened to hundreds of times over the years but never really thought about the words.
As she filled the sanctuary with her beautiful voice, the lyrics began to stab at my heart. I felt a lump begin to form in my throat, and I silently reminded myself, “Don’t do this to your makeup, girl. DO NOT do this to your makeup.”
But it was too late. The tears started flowing and I couldn’t stop them. The music played on and began to cry harder….ugly crying. Like, the kind of ugly cry that comes with audible heaving and sobbing.
I ran out of the sanctuary while gasping for breath, my close friends were right on my heels, knowing exactly what was wrong.
I was inconsolable. All of the emotion of having a loved one deployed…in a war zone…during Christmas had finally caught up with me.
Two days later, I came across “A Soldier’s Christmas Poem.”
Ya’ll, it turns out that the sobbing I’d had at the church was nothing, NOTHING, compared to the complete hysterics I went into with this poem. The heaving at the church turned out to be just a warm-up exercise before the REAL over-the-top, hysterical mental breakdown began.
I share this poem every year as a reminder to me and my children that there are people away from home so that we can be safe. There are men and women who won’t get to snuggle their babies so that I can safely snuggle mine.
I will forever be grateful to my brother, and to all of the men and women, who have made the choice to put their lives on the line for our country. Please keep them, and their families, in your thoughts and prayers this holiday season.
The embers glowed softly, and in their dim light,
I gazed round the room and I cherished the sight.
My wife was asleep, her head on my chest,
my daughter beside me, angelic in rest.
Outside the snow fell, a blanket of white,
Transforming the yard to a winter delight.
The sparkling lights in the tree, I believe,
Completed the magic that was Christmas Eve.
My eyelids were heavy, my breathing was deep,
Secure and surrounded by love I would sleep
in perfect contentment, or so it would seem.
So I slumbered, perhaps I started to dream.
The sound wasn’t loud, and it wasn’t too near,
But I opened my eye when it tickled my ear.
Perhaps just a cough, I didn’t quite know,
Then the sure sound of footsteps outside in the snow.
My soul gave a tremble, I struggled to hear,
and I crept to the door just to see who was near.
Standing out in the cold and the dark of the night,
A lone figure stood, his face weary and tight.
A soldier, I puzzled, some twenty years old
Perhaps a Marine, huddled here in the cold.
Alone in the dark, he looked up and smiled,
Standing watch over me, and my wife and my child.
“What are you doing?” I asked without fear
“Come in this moment, it’s freezing out here!
Put down your pack, brush the snow from your sleeve,
You should be at home on a cold Christmas Eve!”
For barely a moment I saw his eyes shift,
away from the cold and the snow blown in drifts,
to the window that danced with a warm fire’s light
then he sighed and he said “It’s really all right,
I’m out here by choice. I’m here every night.”
“Its my duty to stand at the front of the line,
that separates you from the darkest of times.
No one had to ask or beg or implore me,
I’m proud to stand here like my fathers before me.
My Gramps died at ‘Pearl on a day in December,”
then he sighed, “That’s a Christmas ‘Gram always remembers.”
My dad stood his watch in the jungles of ‘Nam
And now it is my turn and so, here I am.
I’ve not seen my own son in more than a while,
But my wife sends me pictures, he’s sure got her smile.
Then he bent and he carefully pulled from his bag,
The red white and blue… an American flag.
“I can live through the cold and the being alone,
Away from my family, my house and my home,
I can stand at my post through the rain and the sleet,
I can sleep in a foxhole with little to eat,
I can carry the weight of killing another
or lay down my life with my sisters and brothers
who stand at the front against any and all,
to insure for all time that this flag will not fall.”
“So go back inside,” he said, “harbor no fright.
Your family is waiting and I’ll be all right.”
“But isn’t there something I can do, at the least,
“Give you money,” I asked, “or prepare you a feast?
It seems all too little for all that you’ve done,
For being away from your wife and your son.”
Then his eye welled a tear that held no regret,
“Just tell us you love us, and never forget
To fight for our rights back at home while we’re gone.
To stand your own watch, no matter how long.
For when we come home, either standing or dead,
to know you remember we fought and we bled
is payment enough, and with that we will trust.
That we mattered to you as you mattered to us.