I stood outside my parish church with a notebook in one hand and a tissue in the other. I was there to "cover" a military funeral for a story I was writing, but I had not been able to stop crying since I'd seen the photo in that morning's paper of Captain Timothy Moshier with his baby daughter just before he was deployed to Iraq last December.
Now, against a picturesque, almost frivolous, backdrop of magnolia blossoms and bright blue sky, his flag-draped casket was carried past the military honor guard while a lone bagpiper played. I slipped into the back of the standing-room-only church where photos of the young pilot were displayed.
From his own childhood to the birth of his daughter and his deployment, the pictures offered a glimpse of this 25-year-old man, whose Apache helicopter went down outside Baghdad on April 1. On one poster board was a list of "things you need to know about Tim."
By the time I finished this list, I was humbled by the fact that someone so young could be so wise about how to live his life with joy. He proposed to his wife, Katie, during a 3 a.m. meteor shower. He wore his father's shirt into the delivery room for the birth of his only child. He bought his daughter, Natalie, her first pool the day her umbilical cord fell off.
He gave his then 4-month-old daughter her first "driving lessons" before being deployed -- I'm guessing because somewhere in his heart he knew that he might not be around to give her real driving lessons. Before leaving, he bought Natalie a teddy bear that played his voice saying, "I love you," when she squeezed its belly.
As I looked at the pictures and listened to his friends speak, I imagined the grief of his mother and father, who were living through every parent's worst nightmare. I imagined the sorrow of his wife, who will have to help their child know her father through stories and pictures. And I cried, as did almost everyone around me in that church.
Every person who spoke about this young man talked about his commitment to the military, how he never wanted to go to any school but West Point, how he didn't want to stay home when other troops went off to Iraq, how he believed in what he was doing and felt he was making a difference in this world. It gave me new respect for the young men and women who have volunteered for the armed forces. How does anyone have the courage to leave behind an infant daughter and willingly walk into a war zone on behalf of someone else?
Later this month we will celebrate Memorial Day, a holiday that sadly has become not much more than an extra day off from work and a chance to get a bargain on some home appliances. There are still parades and there are still veterans standing outside Kmart offering red paper poppies for a donation, but the reality is that we really don't do enough to appreciate the men and women who have laid down their lives so the rest of us wouldn't have to.
Maybe this Memorial Day we could all say a little prayer -- for those who died defending our country yesterday, and for those who walk away from their family and friends and all the comforts of home to serve in Iraq or Afghanistan today.
Some of them, like Timothy Moshier, have had hardly enough time to get started on their lives. And yet what they've done with the time they've had should leave the rest of us shocked and awed.
Mary DeTurris Poust is a contributing editor for OSV.