Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Sorrow and Patriotism
This article is also posted at Gottesdienst Online, and appeared in the Kewanee Star Courier this morning. The funeral of Sgt Schuyler Patch was held in Kewanee on Saturday.
On Thursday afternoon I stood among those lining the street waiting for the motorcade which brought the body of Seargeant Schuyler Patch back home.
Gathered at Veterans’ Park, several hundred strong, we waved our flags and made small talk as we waited. People milled about as the KHS band came out to play, and some TV newscasters from the Quad Cities showed up.
Finally, when the long motorcade came down the street, all the chattering stopped, and there descended a sudden and thick quiet upon the multitude. We watched as the family emerged in silence. No chatter, no shuffling of feet, not even the twittering of birds. The air was still, and the sun hid behind the clouds. The gravity of the moment descended like thick darkness upon us, and we stood speechless as our hearts heaved, ready to burst.
The band began to play some patriotic music, which seemed to brighten the day for a moment, but when they ceased, and a lone bugler in the distance began to play taps, the family broke down and began to weep for their son; and so did Kewanee. All around me I heard sobbing, and saw red eyes, on the faces of young and old alike. The Apostle Paul bids us to weep with those who weep, and all at once it seemed the entire town was doing just that, willing the Patch family to know that they were not alone in their sorrow.
This was Kewanee embracing her own.
And yet what I thought I saw, or felt, in this moment of grief was something more. People die every day, some of them young; and we grieve their losses too, when we know them. But the feeling of emotion felt that hour, at the loss of this soldier serving his country was more than simply grief. It was a palpable recognition of honor and loyalty, and a swell of patriotism. This was America.
And this, I’d suggest, revealed the beating heart of Kewanee. This town is a mix of varying political persuasions, as the voting patterns indicate. But there are no debates among us about the nobleness and valor that attends military service. Death on the battlefield somehow takes on an additional meaning, and when we gather in droves to honor one who has died in this way, though we certainly do so in sympathy with the family that has suffered so great a loss, we also do so because in this we are brought to terms with the reality that this great nation requires sacrifice, and we find ourselves in the perpetual debt of those who have made that sacrifice.
A rare and wonderful outpouring of community solidarity, sorrow, and love has emerged, because we all seem unquestionably to know that Schuyler Patch has become, at the age of 25, a hero, for no other reason than that he gave his life for his country. In the midst of our grief we know that there is something very inspiring and enduring in that. Kewanee at her best is America at her best, standing shoulder to shoulder, one nation under God. The value of this nation soars when it is measured in sacrifice, and words can scarce express our gratitude over those whose lives, like the life of Schuyler Patch, have been weighed in that measure.