Some days, I wish I never quit smoking. It isn’t the cigarette I miss but the catharsis. I remember sitting in the dark, staring at the glow of my cigarette as I exhaled smoke like a dragon. The very act of smoking is designed destruction- your lungs, the cigarette …all of it.
It all seemed very poetic.
Company in my solitude. Something to focus on- breath in, breathe out. The feel of smoke in my lungs, the taste on my tongue, the smell of sulfur from the match wrapped in intense concentration.
Now, I meditate. It’s cheaper. And you aren’t relegated to a windy hill.
But, today? As I stand in the rain along side a dirty Illinois River looking at the monument to those who have lost their lives in the Middle East conflicts- today, I could really use a smoke.
My brother in law was riding to Sturgis from Maine and asked that we meet him for a leg of the trip. We just needed to decide where to meet.
In steps the universe. A video about the Middle East Conflict Memorial wall in Marcelles, Il showed up on my Facebook feed.
It is between Fort Wayne and Rock Island. Check.
It is only 96 miles south. Check.
It rained for 50 of them. Sucked.
Four days ago, I didn’t even know this place existed. Now I am standing in the rain with an ache in my heart staring at granite panels with thousands of names….. the grief washes over me to see a physical evidence of the cost we have suffered.
How is that even possible?
The monument is on the edge of a corporate parking lot, alongside the Illinois River. The dirty water is as grey as the overcast skies.
There is a disheveled look to the area; broken pavement, dirt and sand strewn about, the remnants of a 100 year flood that ravaged the area recently.
I imagine it looks like a war zone.
The rain adds to the experience as if the skies themselves are weeping. Why should I be spared the dirt and the destruction they likely died amongst?
I look around taking it all in.
There are tokens left along the wall; military patches and plastic bracelets. Photos with hand written notes sharing details of who their loved ones were.
What made him laugh. Who he loved.
That he is missed.
I see three Bud Lights place in front of the panel containing the names of KIAs from 2011; placed in front of different names; promised beers amongst brothers.
I walk slowly along the panels. I find his name. Micha’s brother. I catch my breath and my eyes fill. I’m caught off guard by the rise of emotions that rock me. I didn’t even know him, but to see his name on this wall is like a boot to the head. I hear Micha’s voice describing his brother over coffee. Collier was killed in a mortar attack in Iraq weeks after his 21st birthday. He never bought him that beer.
There are Desert boots are made into memorials filled with cement, flags and flowers; poignant and powerful. They are almost pretty.
Some one emptied their pocket of change, perhaps for a debt never repaid.
And there in the rain was one lone cigarette.
I need distance from the granite wall. I go towards the building to see the museum.
The museum was started when Illinois Valley Cellular realized that some of the tokens had been stolen or worse thrown into the river.
Who does that?
The museum is being reassembled. Volunteers had removed everything in advance of the rising flood waters. There is love and tenderness in ever corner of the room, mingled with tears, and pain and loss. The photos, the tokens, letters, medals are a story that can live on.
These tokens keep their loved ones alive.
The memorial is a privately funded. It is a collaborative effort of a small community, small business owners and no small amount of commitment. Every June, there is a Motorcycle run that draws tens of thousand of people to this little town for a ceremony that reads the names of the men and women who died in previous year. Thousands of people come to stand witness. It took the government 20 years to recognize those lost in Vietnam. It took the government 60 years to recognize the sacrifice of World War II. This wall honors the sacrifice within 12 months.
It is the only monument of its kind.
I wish there wasn’t a need.
The founders said they made the wall to say thank you for those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
I want to say I’m sorry.
So very, very sorry. God Bless.