I played the piano for a children’s choir in Harlem. There were hundreds of kids ranging from kindergarten to 8th grade and although they were energetic and excited for the performance that night, they were a bit under rehearsed. The only person that seemed to bother, however, was the very frazzled choir director. We scrambled through a very last minute run through of the songs and then the children were dispersed for hair and wardrobe checks.
As the choir gathered back to their seats in the 2 reserved front rows, I kept glancing at the back door. My husband was to meet me right after drill that evening (he is in the Army Reserves). Knowing how traffic could be and that he drove his own car all the way through the city rather than using public transportation, I was afraid he might miss the program. In a matter of minutes though, there he was. Walking towards me smiling.
I must be immune to camouflage now. Because while it scarcely registered in my brain that he was still in uniform, the children were enthralled as he passed by them. I wondered just how many New York City children had actually seen a soldier in person. I watched their little heads follow him as he walked to the front of the room and heard whispers of “Look, a soldier!” One kid asked, “Do you know how to shoot a gun?” They pointed, talked, and kept their stares firmly on my husband. I know that he was suddenly aware that he was being watched and admired. He would be on his best behavior that night knowing little eyes were watching his every move. Eddie whispered to me, “You should tell them you’re one too.” I shook my head and said bitter sweetly, “I’m not anymore.”
My mind drifted back to years ago as a high school girl, feeling the same way those children do now. Every time I saw any military person in uniform, I got chills. Whenever I watched a “Go Army” commercial on TV, my heart would race. I used to dream of one day wearing that uniform. I may have idealized it a tad too much, making it an impossible standard to ever meet. In my experience, there are some soldiers who never did feel that pride in their uniform, but then there were some who did. My classmates in ROTC did. And they felt it even more after our friend Kevin was killed in Iraq. There are a few people I worked with at Fort Bragg who felt that pride, taking great care in its’ appearance and striving daily towards all it stands for. My brother felt that pride on each of his 3 deployments. My sister will feel that pride in a few weeks at her graduation. And I still have the pride and the memories that I wore that uniform every day for 4 years. I’ll certainly vouch for any soldier in the country. And I still have a fierce loyalty to the service and a respect for all their sacrifice and difficult way of life.
I realized that I am proud of, but a little disappointed in myself, hoping to accomplish more than what I did in those 4 years. I know in my head that the important thing was raising my hand, willing to go over (on a deployment) and not actually going over. But in my heart, I still feel like maybe I let my country down. Like I let Kevin down.
But these children don’t have any of these thoughts. In their mind, Eddie is a hero. And he is. They’ll talk for the rest of the week about the soldier who came to their school. And one day, many years from now, maybe one will join the service and remember how distinguished and disciplined Eddie was in his uniform and be a slightly better soldier because of it.
When the evening was over and I gathered all my things to leave, a little boy ran up to Eddie with a piece of paper and a pen, “Excuse me sir, can I have your autograph?” Eddie happily obliged and the little boy ran back to his friends as he held up his new prize. They looked at it with awe and jealousy and marveled at Eddie as we left the school in a hero's exit.
"Silk in the Sky" http://www.myspace.com/maryelizabethgrimes