The cycle of harm, by its very intention, results in loss for one or more parties. During one assignment with the U.S. Special Forces in Iraq, I attended the funeral of a brother soldier killed in the line of duty. This loss was a somber occasion that inspired me to recall and blend stories of loss from all perspectives. The experience painted a systemic image of the interdependent, connective tissue of self-perpetuating violence which sometimes feels so natural as to seem inescapable. Courageous men and women have to reject the lethal spiral. Courageous men and women are the last hope when fires of hatred threaten to consume us all.
Two aged men, that had been foes for life,
Met by a grave, and wept – and in those tears
They washed away the memory of their strife;
Then wept again the loss of all those years.
Our chaplain prays over the dogtags of the man in this story
We honor a fallen comrade. Hundreds of strangers converge from all corners of our little camp in Iraq. America the Beautiful plays quietly, reverently, as members from all services, agencies, and companies walk up, one by one, filing into clean ranks.
Our chaplain takes the podium, in his uniform and matching camouflage-patterned military stole, bringing our attention to God’s sovereignty over this solemn event. He speaks of a family’s loss and a hero’s honor.
In the adjacent Iraqi town outside the base, a mother and father clutch at each other and weep desperately. They cannot know yet whether their four-year-old daughter will survive the shrapnel wounds torn deep into her abdomen, thigh, and scalp. They know they are fortunate just to have a doctor’s attention; that he lacks anesthesia is a cost of being born here.
Our commander steps to the microphone. He praises the selflessness of this man who had gone forward time and again into harm’s way. The commander has lost many brothers, in many battles. He bears the pain with practiced stoicism. He praises the courage of a good man whose child will never again fall asleep under Daddy’s comforting smile; whose wife will never again melt into those strong arms.
The man’s wife and child have been notified of their devastating loss. An irreplaceable piece of their own souls died on the side of the road, with their man, on that day.
The mother and father now sit numb. Their hearts died the instant the doctor failed to save their little girl. They stare vacantly through red and swollen eyes as his staff cares for the small, torn daughters of other families.
Six thousand miles away in the United States, a nation snarls and chews at itself. Citizens complain that elections are only a choice for the lesser of evils. National unity fades to a distant memory, mere flickers of the brotherhood that shone after those horrific terrorist attacks during one breakfast in the new millennium.
The media stoke the flames of dissatisfaction, telling pieces of truth to uphold the assumptions of their owners. Ratings rise. Competing outlets create divergent realities. “News” programs become thinly-veiled political support machines. Sales of advertised products soar as each camp more zealously devours its own “news.” The very real enemies of freedom and democracy around the world cackle with glee at a spectacle of national disharmony driven by selfish, divisive gain.
The dead girl’s fourteen-year-old brother had been a gentle boy, destined for musical greatness that might have lifted the hearts of millions. Now, his own heart destroyed by hate, he vows to join the resistance against the insurgency and kill as many as possible. Within the month, he will destroy three other families’ sons…before being shot to death.
Elsewhere in town, an armed group converges on a lightly-occupied mosque during prayers and takes seven worshipers away. These men are the wrong “type” of Muslim, and the subsequent brutality of their deaths will horrify and pacify the neighbors of seven abruptly fatherless families. It is possible to be tortured to death.
Seven more mothers and wives are utterly shattered. Each will suffer terribly at the loss of her husband; learning that he himself suffered terribly in a slow death will be far worse. Worst of all will be the desperate years of begging or whoring to feed hungry children.
My thoughts return to our ceremony beneath a blazing sun. The heat is oppressive. There is so much loss.
I ache, deeply, for my own. Before he was killed, this was my brother in this world. It is my loss that this good man is dead.
I have lost this little girl, my precious sister in this world.
I have lost the rational, respectful discourse with my countrymen that determines who will lead one great and undivided nation.
I have lost the kind and gentle boy who would heal souls with his music.
I have lost the seven husbands and fathers and sons.
We have lost when reconciliation is less important than revenge.
We have lost when hate-filled parties thirst for the blood of the Other.
We will lose, again and again, each time we choose not to confront this tortuous cycle—the cycle which itself is the ultimate enemy.
We have known loss, today.
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