Mike Dwyer – Anchor Staff
The sun had already set when I left home and drove up Broadway and out the main road past the humming lights of shopping plazas and car lots. I drove past the cathedral and economy motels, then hooked a left on Brown’s Lane where the road snakes its way down the hill.
At the bottom I pass through the cemetery gates. My friends are already there. We’ve grown apart, but every year we gather here on Nov. 5– to drink, to laugh, and to share with each other the memory of a man buried beneath our feet. This day marks nine years since he was killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan.
Every time I hook that left and drive down the hill, I remember how emotional and painful it was to bury him and recall certain images that are seared into my memory– the hundreds of people lining the road, the enormous wind-swept flag suspended between two ladder trucks from the local fire department, the backward-facing boots hung in the stirrups of a riderless horse, the meticulous folding of the flag and the way his widow clutched it as her knees buckled during the salute.
I remember: at the bottom of that hill, a man I had never seen before standing outside his truck at the gates of the cemetery. He was holding a flag pole in one hand and at his feet, propped against the side of his pickup, was a hand written sign that read: “I try to be worth dying for”. When I saw this, I burst into tears and felt a mix of sadness and anger– sadness for a life cut short and for the children who would have to grow up without their father, and then anger over the war, at my own country and at the stranger with that sign.
It’s been nine years and those memories are still vivid. I look out over the graveyard and can see the silhouettes of headstones. I join my circle of friends to catch up. We poke fun at each other and laugh and it feels like old times. The conversation is light and amicable. No one brings up the election. No one crosses that line here. Even though my friends and I have gotten older and drifted apart, now wasn’t the time to hash out our differences.
We can’t agree on what it means to be American, the symbolic value of that flag, the meaning or reasons underlying our friend’s death or the righteousness of the war that claimed his life– a war his sons are now almost old enough to serve in. We can’t agree on what he died for, if anything.
No one mentions the elephant in the room. For a time, it feels as though all those differences have melted away. We build a neutral ground from our frustrations, our powerlessness and vulnerability and the nagging feeling of loss and uncertainty. We can all agree on this: that things are not as they should be.