Louise, bless her heart, has invited me to blog again on Remembrance Day, the anniversary of my son Thomas’s death. I’d like to talk a little about Thomas himself this time.
My own blog is titled “We Remember” which is a phrase that pops up everywhere once you start looking for it. Most of what I have remembered has to do with the way we have handled the time since Thomas’s death on November 11, 2004. It is hard for me to believe in some ways that it has already been five years since the day he died. It either feels like this has always been our reality, or like he was just here yesterday. He himself had a very sophisticated view of time, being the kind of kid who shut himself up in his room to secretly read St. Augustine’s Confessions. He understood Augustine’s concept of eternity as being all of time at once: hard for us mere humans to encompass. But it is a comfort to me in a way to think that in some sense at least he exists just as I remember him, as a chunky baby, as a thoughtful kindergartner, as a boy growing toward manhood.
People who did not know Thomas are always astounded to hear that he told us in July before he left for Iraq exactly what he wanted done if “anything happened.” (We could not bring ourselves to even say “If you don’t come back.”) He stood in the hallway while I clutched a basket of laundry and told me that he did not want to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery, that he wanted to be buried in civilian clothes, and that he had decided to pay for the higher level of life insurance available to soldiers, figuring that it was only a few dollars per month. I argued about the clothes but ultimately told him I’d do what he wanted, just don’t make me do it please. It was a gift in a way: when they came to tell us that he was gone, we knew precisely what we had to do.
And his view about time was also a gift: a few months later, his high school English teacher, Tom Tobin, was interviewed by the Washington Post as part of a series about the aftermath of soldiers’ deaths. Tom recounted a conversation in which Thomas revealed just what a remarkable kid he really was, how he had explained Augustine and eternity to his fellow students and teacher. Tom was amazed and impressed and it was the beginning of a friendship that lasted to the end of Thomas’s life.
It may be hard to believe that a kid who could contemplate his own death with equanimity and discuss St. Augustine with ease could also be described as a good soldier. But there they were: his Purple Heart, his Bronze Star, and his Good Conduct Medal all witnessing to his life as a professional soldier.
He had volunteered for his final mission, no surprise, in the end, to anyone who knew him.