My Silent Voice ...
Would be silent a little longer.
I had brought a black suit and a white blouse. I had a pair of closed toe black shoes with low heels. I looked at the shoes and knew they were going to hurt my feet about an hour after putting them on. I’d have to wait until the very last moment before putting them on. I looked out the window of the hotel room and hoped it would be only a mildly hot and humid day. It was still early morning. But it was June in Arlington, Virginia. This was going to be a very long day.
Arlington National Cemetery is a beautiful and moving place. And, if you have never seen a full military honors funeral in person, it might be something to arrange to see.
Pictures of the setting don’t do it justice compared with just walking in it. The ceremony is solemn and moving.
My adoptive father was a retired Army officer. He spoke fluent Japanese and, I think, Vietnamese. I was vaguely aware growing up that his tours in Asia were somehow special and not spoken about.
We gathered at an administration building, meeting with the Army chaplain. My adoptive father had remarried after the death of my adoptive mother and his surviving wife and her children, their spouses, and grandchildren were there.
Before we departed to the gravesite, the chaplain came to me. He informed me that my adoptive father was a war hero. From two tours in Viet Nam, he had earned a number of medals, some of which could not be disclosed due to missions still being classified. The chaplain would talk about my adoptive father’s military career and speak of the many medals he had been awarded. He asked me if there was anything I wanted to add.
I looked at the chaplain, unable to speak as tears welled up in my eyes. He waited a few moments, and placed a gentle hand on my shoulder, smiled and said if I thought of something, I could tell him.
The procession to the ceremony was solemn. We walked slowly behind a caisson wrapped in the Arlington silence except for the clip-clop of the six white horses – the final journey - his final journey.
At the final resting place, the chaplain performed a ceremony. I heard the sound of his voice but not the words. He must have been done when I heard the three volleys of the seven rifles, which startled me out of the fog I was in. Then from afar came the soft sound of a bugle playing taps. I knew the ceremony was over.
As I watched the soldiers meticulously folding the flag and handing it to my adoptive father’s surviving wife, tears welled up again and my chest constricted in pain. There was so much I wanted to say, but I said nothing. I knew the chaplain had patted my shoulder to console my grief.
I was not grieving. I had come across the country to Arlington to make certain that he was dead and GONE, GONE, GONE, forever.
TODAY’S HOW TO
Over the years, when my voice was silenced, I felt a physical constriction in my chest. All that I wanted to say, all that I felt, all that I was suppressing, would come together and gather in one spot in my chest. At such moments, if I tried to speak I think you’d only hear a little squeak. The pressure built as my whole being focused into one spot. The only alternative to a squeak would be a scream. At my adoptive father’s funeral, the chest constriction was as bad as I had experienced in my earlier life.
I wanted so much to open my chest and let everything go free. I wanted to say out loud, “I don’t care that he’s a war hero! He’s not MY hero!” I wanted to yell out, “How can all of you be so ignorant? How can all of you close your eyes to the truth?” But I didn’t. Instead, I sat silently, allowing the solemn ceremony to take place while my chest constricted painfully, alone.
I am certainly glad I didn’t choose that particular moment to “scream.” No good for me would have come of it. But it gets me to thinking about the chronic pressure, the physical contractions, the pain, that we live with when a secret conflicts with the life we are TRYING to live. Sometimes it is low level pain and life IS working. Perhaps, it is best if we just live with that. Sometimes it is not so low-level and we are only PRETENDING that life is happening as we wish it to. Sometimes, it’s in between.
At my adoptive father’s funeral, screaming would do me no good. I was already well beyond any of the past actual suffering. My life was actually working. Despite my happiness that he was actually, finally, dead and gone, my experience with the chaplain told me that there was still plenty to live with.
Several years have now gone by and today, I don’t feel the need to squeak or scream.