Today. Ten Years Ago....
Time is not merciful, it is not slow or forgiving as we progress through each day. Time moves in a relentless linear fashion. Time has pushed me forward 4424 miles from a breezy, misty, overcast day in Astoria, OR to this finish in Rockland, ME, on a stormy Friday morning when the winds blew ferociously and the rain pummeled a small group of us as we ran slowly towards the shore.
This is how it was on October 15, 2010
My son is a great man. He works hard and raises 2 children on his own at the young age of 26. I admire and respect his devotion and dedication to his son and daughter. His path in this world could have taken him in many different directions and the one he is on today with me, will lead him to the placing of the 3rd flag. We stop three miles from the ocean and holding a small flag with a yellow ribbon fluttering, he reads the name of Marine 2nd Lieutenant Therrell Childers who was 30 years old. I watch my son. I study his face hidden under his hat and wonder what he is thinking. The rain runs down his nose and small drops fall, tumbling to the asphalt at his feet. Around us, all are quiet as he places it in the ground next to a small aspen tree. He places his hand over his heart and I salute. That could have been his name there on that flag, very easily and I am fortunate that it wasn’t. We are linked at this moment together and I see that it means so much to him to do this for a Marine who is gone, to have a connection. The small aspen tree sways under the battering wind. Sways but does not break. Love and memories sway under the weight and passing of time but do not fade away.
Now there are only 2 miles left and time seems to be moving even faster. The wind picks up, the rain falls harder as we make our way through the neighborhood to a spot on the corner where the one-way streets begin in downtown Rockland. The wheels on this stroller have seen the entire country. They have rolled from the Pacific to the Atlantic through the Columbia River Gorge, the mountains of Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, and Colorado. They have carried these last 2 flags across the stifling heat and never-ending expanse of the Midwest. How many revolutions of my wheels? How many footsteps? Those are statistics I have not determined. Through the rolling, colorful hills of New York, Vermont, and Maine. Through snow, wind, and rain. Through dirt, gravel, and pavement and now just a short mile to their final destination, a small boat ramp in a small harbor on the Atlantic Ocean.
My daughter is a great woman. She is only 20 and yet, is wise beyond her years with wit and intelligence and beauty to match. Like her brother, her path in life brought her to Maine to run 6 miles with her dad and plant her connection, Marine Captain Ryan Beaupre who was 30 years old. The roads divide here and we stop. Under a large Maple tree, she kneels down and places his flag. She is alone in her moment. Her black rain jacket whips in the wind, its hood is pulled tightly around her auburn hair and blue eyes. She reads his name and places her hand over her heart as I salute from a few yards away. She pauses then, staring intently at his flag. I look at her and it is has become a moment frozen in my mind through my mind these last 10 years. Her hands are clenched up under her chin and tears are flowing down her cheeks. She may not understand the why's of war but she understands loss and sacrifice. Her body is shaking from the cold and she lightly shudders between her tears.
She cries for this Marine, for a soul in heaven, for eyes that can only watch from above. For the freedoms in her life, he has afforded her. She stands alone and her connection is buried in her thoughts forever. Thoughts and emotions that are only hers but are reflected in those tears.
I move on, alone and in this last mile reflect on the miles, the journey that has brought me to these last few yards, to the last few feet. For those who ask why the answer will never be understood. There are passions that arise in our lives that lead us on a mission few may understand. Yet we know it is right for no one but us and we hope we can hold onto it for as long as we breathe.
The presence I have felt from the start of this run is now almost gone as I move down a boat launch to crashing waves. It lingers over me and I know Major Jay Aubin is watching and smiling as he becomes my last flag. As eyes and souls watched from above their names were remembered. Our men and women, not Republicans and not Democrats but Americans, who fought so valiantly and died for us, took their spot along the roads of America to watch over and protect us, joined arm in arm until there was only one.
My wheel touches the Atlantic and she kisses me with welcoming ocean spray.
I look to the sky and salute the heavens.
I am done.
In time, as I reflect on what has transpired, the value and meaning of those six months in 2010 will become even more apparent to me. I discovered that impossible is only a word and that the heart can surpass so many boundaries. I discovered that we are a strong country when being strong is the only option we have. That despite what we hear and read and see we are the greatest country in the world with the greatest people. I saw it in the faces of America. From store clerks to Veterans to schoolchildren and farmers and highway workers. The people I came in contact with added so much to my life and to the memory of the flags that were carried. The wall is complete now. It spans our great land and even though the permanence of a small flag may be blown away by winds and weather in time, the permanence of the moment it was placed, the honor bestowed upon that spot will remain forever……….