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Traveling, living, loving, exploring and trying to make some semblance of sense out of this crazy world.  

 

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Fireflies

Fireflies

We laid the old soldier to rest with sunshine and passing storms, with tears and laughter, handshakes and hugs and tales of years gone all too swiftly by. We scattered among the folding chairs, trying to fill the airy modern architecture of the place with our own private hopes of a comforter, and the promise of something beyond this clay. As the appointed hour approached, the slightly awkward brass group joined the keyboardist in Presbyterian melody, and the latecomers filled the remaining seats along the middle and inner flanks; the pallbearers, and the many members of the family. The priest, preacher, whatever they call them in that particular denomination, appeared at the rear of this final surge, and with his guidance, we sat, then rose and prayed and sat yet again, prayed and sang.

Somewhere, in the back of my head, working its way around the lump in my throat and the wet blur in my eyes, John’s ancient twangy rasp speculated that this was a helluva lotta fuss to go through just to lay one old leatherneck to rest. Lotta standing and sittin’, if nothing else. A smile broke through my tears, as the sun came brightly in at the stained glass windows, streaming across the draping flag.

John was a good friend to my father for well over a decade, sharing a love of flying and a military past served during some of America’s less triumphant post WWII efforts: Korea and Viet Nam, respectively. In John, my father, a man who rarely opened himself with people, found someone to look up to, to share with; someone who understood the pain of memories you cannot forget, and inner demons that can never find flesh in words.

John was never bitter, never truly angry at anything that didn’t involve the loss of human life. Having survived some of the worst fighting of the Korean War, he seemed to have found a place in himself to accept the changes that came after service. In his loving wife and family, and his continuing striving for personal perfection in his love of mechanics, he found a strange Zen peace some study years and travel thousands of miles to achieve. Although I was nowhere near as close to him as my father, I respected John on a level too deep to explain. Any man who denies loving another man is a fool, for some men stride so large and hold so high the Ideal that one cannot help but to love them, as a brother loves his brother, as a Father loves his Son.

I waited until the police escort and the procession had mostly cleared the lot, and sent a single salute after the clay that had once housed the wise, laughing, wisecracking essence of humanity that was John Scott.

The road home was a back road, almost bereft of traffic at the early hour of the morning, and the meadow curves and forest hills of the drive became a slowly unscrolling inner film of lost faces and hushed rooms full of soft music, dying flowers, and muffled teardrops, the background of jazz guitar giving way to brief moods of philosophizing and a few bursts of sudden tear-streaked laughter, unexpected as a sneeze and just as inevitable, as some long-forgotten moment of hilarity leaped directly beyond Reason to Reaction.

We mourn not for the dead but for ourselves, not for the end of life so much as for the passing of what we have known as fact, taken for granted. People who make an impression and last beyond the first contact become a landmark, a fixed point in our realities. Letting go of them, and of the surety of their existence in our worlds, is so hard. No faith or philosophy can completely fill the void when memory’s ship sets sail for some archipelago that, it is only too late recalled, is long lost beneath the waves of the Time’s eternal sea. John and my father had seen and said goodbye to many fallen comrades, and in their friendship I would like to believe that both found something unique, something strengthening and anchoring, in a world so busy rushing headlong into its next “conflict” that it has all but forgotten those who answered the call and served a Dream… even as that dream was dying a slow death at the hands of politicians and pundits.

The wisdom of the moment, of course, must always sink, slowly but surely, into the onrushing river of the day; surfacing again and again in conversation or related thoughts, but soon only a background theme in the symphony of existence; bills, family, work, the idiot antics of politicians, preachers and idealists here and abroad, births and weddings, rising prices in the supermarket and falling numbers in the stock market; the eternal battle to be a “responsible adult”- and the endless debate of just what that outmoded term really means.

But later that evening, with laundry done and the lawn mowed, a thousand errands run, some cold facts faced and some hard decisions made, I sat on the front porch, the sweat of a frosty Dog in my hand, and watched fireflies rise from the grass, as a jet cut silent contrails across the fading platinum of sunset, flying into Night. Twenty five thousand feet below it, the fireflies rose in wavering arcs from the grass and trees.

Rise, and glow, dancing for an eternal second in the dark, surrounded by kindred flames, then fading from sight, gone but not lost, unseen, but not forgotten.

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