A Quiet Road

A Quiet Road

From Chicken Soup for the Military Wife's Soul

A Quiet Road

Who shall set a limit to the influence of a human being?

Ralph Waldo Emerson

I like to read signs. They hint at the flavor of places. Small, easy-to-miss signs posted on the highway have informative and sometimes inventive names. Rivers and lakes, such as Clear Boggy River and Coffeepot Lake, intrigue me. Other signs with names like Terrebonne Parrish and Muleshoe, Texas, offer insights to their distinct regions. I look with longing at the brown highway signs that state, “Historical Marker, 1 mile,” because we’re always flying along to our destination and can’t stop. But I’d like to pull over and contemplate an old battlefield, now silent and peaceful.

Naturally, I glanced at the green sign as we turned onto one of Alabama’s state highways and read, “Johnny Michael Spann Memorial Highway.” After a second of wondering why that name sounded so familiar, I realized with a jolt where I’d heard the name: on the news. Johnny Michael Spann, a CIA officer, was killed during the bloody prison uprising in Mazar-e Sharif in our war on terrorism in Afghanistan. I remembered the reporters, squinting in the glaring light reflecting off the barren landscape, and the almost musical lilt of the name Mazar-e Sharif rolling off their tongues, followed by the phrase, “. . . the first American combat death.”

I picked up the walkie-talkie and pushed the button. Ahead of me in his little blue car, my husband reached over and grabbed his walkie-talkie. “Did you see the name of this road?” I asked.

A crackle of static sounded, then he said, “No.”

“It’s the Johnny Michael Spann Memorial Highway.”

After a second he said, “Wow.”

He didn’t say anything else. Neither did I. We didn’t need to. My husband is a pilot in the Air Force Reserve. We knew firsthand the rewards and risks of serving our country. We were silent—a respectful stillness—as we cruised down the highway.

I’d never thought about why we named roads after people. I’d always pictured a famous politician or successful businessperson when I saw a sign and I didn’t recognize the name. But naming a highway after a patriot struck me as appropriate. After all, the roads that crisscross our country symbolize our freedom to choose our own course and move unchecked across town or across the country as we live our lives and pursue our dreams. In fact, we were an example of that freedom in action. With my husband leading, I brought up the rear in the minivan loaded with two kids, two dogs and miscellaneous toys, luggage and houseplants, as we skimmed along the freeway. We’d left Oklahoma’s rolling hills dotted with scrub oak and headed toward middle Georgia for a new job, a government service position linked to his part-time job as an Air Force Reservist.

On that overcast Sunday, I studied the semirural road and wondered: Why this road? Why not a busy commercial district, at the heart of town? I contemplated the modest, scattered homes set back from the road. Smoke curled up from a few chimneys on that chilly day, and I pictured people reading the Sunday paper with a cup of coffee. Then it seemed exactly right to name this road for Spann, a place where people went about their business, quietly lived their lives and made their choices. Spann had joined a company of people who, beginning with the Revolutionary War’s Battles of Lexington and Concord and running through time to a prison near Mazar-e Sharif, had died giving Americans the ability to pursue life, liberty and happiness.

We followed the gentle curves of the road past the houses and between the tall pines. I wondered if Spann or his family lived on this road. It didn’t matter, I decided, as the road unfurled before us. This calm stretch of road in Alabama showed what our troops were fighting and dying for: the opportunity to live our lives in quiet freedom.

Sara Rosett

More stories from our partners