Must thou go,
When the day,
And the night
Need thee so?
All is well.
To their rest. "
(third stanza of Taps, from the website "Taps Information")
I grew up a quarter mile from a sleepy country cemetery—Meridian Cemetery--just outside of Berwick, IL. I remember hearing music drifting over to me from that cemetery when I was little —the sound of a solitary bugle at the end of May. Memorial Day. Some years, I remember hearing it on my own. Other years my Dad, an Air Force Veteran, would bring me out to hear. It was beautiful, and haunting, and lonesome and it caught at my little girl heart.
As the years went by my Dad would look for ceremony times at that little cemetery. We made it somewhat of a habit to walk up to listen. I jumped at the gunshots, and then let the sound of “Taps” wash over me. Eventually one of my dear friends became the musician playing those notes.
During high school, the school band would perform at the cemetery in Abingdon. To us high school students, that was a corrosion of a day off and we complained and rolled our eyes and begged not to wear our Christmas-colored, red and green uniforms. I fought with my music lyre. I sighed inwardly at the simplistic music of the patriotic songs. I had a terrible attitude about it…
But it brought me in the gates of the cemetery again. It pulled me a little further in—into the circle of participation. These are the end of May days I remember most clearly. The standing, and standing, and standing as they read the rolls after the music part was over. Listening, and listening to all those names.
I wish I could tell you I heard them with the reverence they deserved. I think I tried to. Even then I understood there was power in saying a name out loud… of choosing to remember.
Even though I didn’t always listen with the proper reverence, I am grateful for those moments of listening to the rolls. I am grateful for the standing. I am grateful for the names I took in. I am grateful that as the dates representing the names got closer to the present that goosebumps would take over and tears would spring to my eyes unexpectedly. At that time I didn’t understand. Though the music curled up in me and sang to me of heartache and yearning and loneliness, I didn’t understand. I didn’t know what sacrifice was. I hadn’t put myself in the shoes of a wife losing her husband or of children losing their mother or father.
Still the haunting melody of “Taps” pulled me. The stoic American Legion ceremonies drew me further and further into the gates and primed me for a deeper understanding to come.
I married my husband in 2003. He went to Boot Camp for the U.S. Navy later that year. I have spent over 13 years as a military spouse now.
In the beginning of his career, the gravity of the day still escaped me some. I didn’t want to think of losing him. I wanted it to be just a day off and a time to do things as a family.
Then I started listening. Friends spoke of losing friends. Tears would well. Stories would be told.
I learned that it was not just a day off or a time to gather with friends and eat food.
I kept listening.
And the listening brought remembrance. I realized, I already had a sensory memory of sticky-hot days listening to the rolls be read in a country cemetery. I had the muscle memory of how to pay tribute to those lost, even before I understood the depth of the loss.
As the years have gone by, we’ve had our own losses. A mishap in the desert during one of Andy’s detachments… Pilots from the community. The losses got closer for Andy. A friend who had a collection of silly hats… a shipmate lost at the end of a long deployment… a father of four from the squadron…
As for me, through the work of Her War Her Voice, I had more chances to listen. A friend got the news that her husband had been killed in action weeks before a retreat for military spouses we were supposed to attend together. Witnessing her journey gave me the first real glimpse into what it means to lose a loved one to war.
Later, I had the honor of helping with the writing and leading of two retreats for Gold Star spouses--military widows. I heard their stories. I read their bios. I learned the names of their husbands. More importantly, I learned of their strength and the depth of their love.
Then I began to see the those living with loss all around me. I learned of widows in my own community. A dear friend shared with me about the loss of her brother. A lady working with MOPS told of her losing her husband decades before. A woman at church talked to me about losing her father.
The haunting melody of “Taps” continues to wrap it’s arm around me and to ask me to consider the significance of the notes. It asks me to consider that the lives represented by it are real. It asks me to consider the laughter that has been silenced, the time with children that cannot be given back, the lovers’ kisses that were stolen.
It asks me to consider the knock at the door that I fear and the folded flag that I don’t even want to imagine holding.
It asks me to know that reading the rolls, saying the names, committing to remembering matters so much.
First, I stood on the porch to hear the music of “Taps”… Then, I was pulled into the gates of the cemetery to hear the reading of the rolls… Finally, I was pulled into the circles of those who had lost.
I now have my own list of names…. Names of my husband’s friends. Names of community losses. Names of the husbands of women I have been honored to get to know. In addition to those names, there are the names of the individuals who loved those who were lost. Names, and names, and names.
I am grateful that the sound of a bugle drifted over the headstones and into my front yard so long ago.
I am grateful that I now understand more fully the piercing, lonesome longing in the notes I heard drifting to me from a country cemetery just outside of Berwick, IL.