In the picture, they look like the clichéd perfect couple at an ideal wedding. The young, glowing bride and the slightly older future Marine, standing together with their arms around each other and smiles on their faces. Just looking at the picture of Rachel and Chris on my wall, one can’t help but smile. They look so happy, like a happy ending in a Disney movie. Their tiny dog begging to be picked up and included in the first family picture. Everyone laughing, champagne glasses clinking in a toast. The couple kisses as one last flash goes off and the reception is begun.
One week earlier, Ray’s basement had been set up in a much different manner. The flowering arch and the rows of chairs had yet to replace the long table and dining chairs that filled the space. It was Thanksgiving Rachel and Chris sat at one end of the table, happier than we had ever seen them. Ray sat at the other end, watching over his guests. It was like every other holiday I could ever remember, always spent at Ray’s. Though they were only friends, it often seemed that the people around the table at Ray’s many gatherings were more family than my own relatives had ever been. As dinner finished, Chris stepped away for a moment. When he came back, he knelt on one knee at the side of Rachel’s chair. Her hands flew to her mouth and we couldn’t help but smile as we listened to Chris’ question.
Seventeen months later… My dad and I, on a college trip to Massachusetts, are watching late night television in our hotel room when my dad’s cell phone rings. It’s my mom telling us Chris has been killed. After only three weeks in Iraq, on his first tour of duty, and already he has been reduced from a person and a soldier to a memory and a statistic in the history books.
The day of the funeral and burial arrive quickly. “Taps” plays, and the sobbing is audible as the twenty-four-year-old widow clutches the flag and Purple Heart to her chest, held close by her father-in-law. People walk by the casket, crying as they drop tears and flowers onto the perfectly shined wood. The Marines line the walkway leading to the parking lot, standing in salute, ushering us back to our “regular” lives. Four months later, it is still unreal.
Chris’ death has taught me many things about life, but one lesson stands out above all others: do everything you can with your life. Live life without regrets because this is your only chance, and anything can happen to you. Fate isn’t just, and it doesn’t choose whom it helps and whom it hurts based on Santa’s old “naughty and nice” lists. You only get one chance to make this life mean something, so make it mean everything. Live your life now, before it’s over. Although Chris’ death was a hard thing to deal with, it has really helped me to realize that I wasn’t doing what I wanted with my life. In the past year, I have begun living “in the moment” so much more than I ever did before, and I’ve begun to realize how much happier it has made me. As they say, every cloud does have a silver lining.
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