Strains of Freedom

Strains of Freedom

From Chicken Soup for the Military Wife's Soul

Strains of Freedom

Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.

John Lennon

Still groggy from a sleepless night and numb from the previous day’s events, I wanted nothing more than to pull him back to bed with me and burrow under the familiar warmth and comfort of our covers, our front door bolted to simulate safety and guard against the terrors of the outside world. Instead, I turned to watch my best friend, my beloved husband of twenty-two years, lace the shoestrings through the eyes of his combat boots. Even in the gray light of dawn, I could clearly see, and shudder at, how different this morning’s battle dress uniform was from the customary white-collar attire—air force blues—of his past three-year Pentagon assignment. The change of clothing represented the way that, in less than twenty-four hours, life had changed with such intensity, such ferocity; that for America, “normal” would never be the same.

I followed David down the stairs and to the front door, wrapping my arms around him, burying my face in his chest. I listened for his heartbeat, searching for the scent of his skin beneath the crispness of his freshly starched uniform, losing myself in his embrace. At the same time, I memorized the way he felt within the circle of my arms. I longed to never let go. . . .

Selfishly—for my own comfort. And symbolically—for the ones who would never again hold their loved ones.

Keep him safe, I prayed desperately, struggling to be a good soldier’s wife and forcing myself to release him.

I would not cling. That no longer defined our relationship, our actions or us. Despite the fear in my heart, I gave him my bravest smile. “Please God, bring him home to us at the end of this day,” I whispered, and he walked to his car and drove away.

Twelve long hours later, he came back to us. Our young son and adolescent daughter raced to meet their daddy at the door, tackling him with their customary hugs and kisses. Our oldest daughter phoned, just to hear his voice.

Still trying to cope with the shock, we forked through our dinner and followed, to the best of our ability, our normal nighttime routine. All the while, we kept an ear to the television to listen for terrorist updates.

The children were sent upstairs to begin getting ready for bed as we turned off the TV, locked the doors and turned out the lights. In the otherwise aircraft-grounded skies, the distant overhead rumble of patrolling jets stopped us at the foot of the stairway. My question spilled out.

“Isn’t it hard to go back in there?” I asked. “It’s still burning, smoking. It’s a graveyard.”

“What is hard is that at the end of the day I can come home,” David told me.

I nodded, too choked to speak. I thought of the newscast of the woman holding vigil on the hill across the road from the Pentagon, waiting, watching, hoping and praying for any sign, any glimmer, that her loved one might step from the wreckage and rubble. I thought of all the people wandering and searching, and of the posters and flyers emerging in New York City of those lost in the World Trade Center. I clearly understood the meaning of his words.

“God has been good to us,” I whispered. “I thought I’d lost you.” My tears fell freely. My heart overflowed with thanksgiving, yet at the same time burned with shame, for that very sentence seemed to selfishly invalidate the lives lost. Most assuredly, God loved them and their families, too.

I could tell from his expression that he knew what I was feeling. His eyes were full of his own anger, the pain and demons of needless guilt. And where we could find no words, we reached for each other and held tight, searching for solace, wisdom and a way to understand all that was happening.

It was as we embraced, trying to soothe and fill the emptiness within, that the music began, first as a series of warm-up pizzicato plucks. Soon, the bow met the strings. We smiled at the rusty, scratchy, squeaky notes but then fell somber as the tune from our daughter’s violin grew to a recognizable melody. She played on, mellowing into the most lovely, beautiful, childlike rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner” that I have ever been blessed to hear.

Strains of freedom wafted from her bedroom at the end of the hallway, down the stairs to where we stood in the street lamp-lit foyer. We must have gasped in unison; our hearts jolted, our resolve suddenly growing keen as if we had both taken the first breath after our lungs were punched empty by hatred and bitterness. We pulled apart just enough to look into each other’s eyes, where we communicated at a level much deeper than words would have allowed.

“Have I practiced long enough, Mom?” our daughter called from her room.

“Please, just one more time,” I called back to her, my voice just a little stronger, a little more sure.

And as she again played the anthem, David and I, hand in hand, began to fill with new hope, resolve and determination. We reached for the banister and stepped onto the bottom step of the flight of stairs. We would climb to hug our children, to love them, to continue our journey as parents. We would teach them love and self-respect, and tolerance and acceptance for our fellow man . . . and tuck them in and kiss them good night.

On that fateful Tuesday of September 11, 2001, the very roots and foundation of America and its citizens were shaken to the core. Yet, one by one, moment by moment, we each found our inspiration to redefine and reestablish the normalcy in our lives, to rise above the atrocities and to find a way to forge ahead in the aftermath. For my husband and me, it was the power of our national anthem, delivered by our daughter’s hands, that opened the way to healing.

Tracey L. Sherman

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