I love words. As a writer, there is nothing like turning a phrase that resounds with a reader. It’s an unexpected gift, and I love to be the giver. On a dank July day, I received the gift of five extraordinary words.
My son, Tyler, graduated from high school and walked away from an ROTC scholarship to enlist in the U.S. Army. I had always known he would serve, but attending college first and serving as an officer sounded best to me. Tyler was in a hurry to serve, intent on starting at the bottom and working his way to the top on his own merit. Admirable, yes, but tell that to the heart of a mother.
The day I learned of his decision was the day the bottom fell out for me as a mother. After years of being the “decider,” all seemed lost. The next weeks were filled with dread of the future, like waiting for a funeral. I felt not a scrap of the parental joy. The fear of what could happen to my son nearly crippled me as his mother. If screaming and crying could have prevented my son from going, he’d be with me still.
High School graduation came and went. I planned a celebration though my heart was absolutely, utterly broken. I planned a farewell gathering, going through the motions of letting go. The ties that bind were being crudely severed, inflicting the worst pain I had ever experienced as a mother. A verse of scripture haunted me: “In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and would not be comforted because they are not.” (Matt. 2:18) There was no consoling me.
There were parties for children of our friends and relatives to celebrate bright futures and to wish them well. Imagine rubbing salt in an open wound. I wished their joy could be my joy. It was at a party that I ran into an acquaintance from years ago. Catching up included sharing Tyler’s choice to serve his country. When Tyler arrived, I introduced him. Then it happened. Those five words were spoken.
“Thank you for your service.”
The words came easily, with sincerity, kindness and tremendous respect. I was astonished, speechless even. Of all the things people said of Tyler’s decision, thank you wasn’t one of them. It was a moment in time that will stay with me forever. In my heart, it ranks with other big moments I’ve shared with my son — his birth, first step, first day of school — first thank you as a soldier.
His departure was terrible and the days since then, brutal. Even so, thank you, Tyler, for your service. To all who have served and their families: Thank you for your service and your sacrifice.
I believe words have great power – the power to inform, to persuade, to cause great hurt, and words can heal the broken heart of a mother.
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