Sunday, October 24, 2010

Funeral Reunion

An open grave is the very last place I ever wished to be with my fellow soldiers. Standing in a crowd of uniforms, struggling to hold back tears that dim the sight of a family crushed by unimaginable grief. A reminder that the intense pace of our training, the constant physical and mental gymnastics, is no protection against the spectre of death.

Today I stood by that open grave. Yet my visit was riddled with more ambiguities than any military funeral I could have imagined. A father of one of the guys from my former unit, rather than a young soldier, had died the day before. And so when I joined the young men from my former squad to console our grieving friend, I was meeting my mates of the past year for the first time since my abrupt exit from their ranks six weeks ago. Grief made room for joy as my former soldiers swarmed me with hugs and peppered me with questions on my current doings. New and old stories left many of us laughing. Until the ceremony began, our grieving friend arrived, and the grief in his eyes rebounded across our own consciousness.

The funeral was hardly the occasion to finally see my old comrades-in-arms. Then again, a busy training schedule means my former squad-mates will rarely have much time to connect with me. Many have already advised me that staying friends with guys from my former unit is not worth the trouble. Right now you miss each other, I am told, yet as army life picks up both you and them will soon lose track. Better, they say, to focus on the future and the new guys I will hopefully soon call comrades in arms.

I am not ready to accept such advice. Friendship for me has never been a matter of black and white, accept or deny, certainty. I have difficulty letting go, and doubt the wisdom of arbitrarily giving up on a relationship considering the brief and uncertainty of life. The guys I met during my first year in the army may never become the mythologized bunker buddies I call best friends decades from today. Whatever relationship we do maintain, however, will largely reflect my choices. And as long as I can, I will choose friendship.

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