As the Fourth of July approaches my mind cannot help but wander back to when Beth and Shane were little. We always had our families over for the big holiday; we are fortunate that the Kronners and the Reiferts actually get along and genuinely like one another. Kurt would spend the day cooking on the barbeque, all the kids would swim or play on the swing set or play a game of volleyball, soccer, or wiffle ball or a wicked squirt gun fight. Then the big search for just the right stick to roast marshmallows for s’mores. The day would be filled with love and laughter, that was, until evening approached and the mosquitoes would look for their victims. I would bring out the bug spray and blankets to try and save an itch or two. And then the magic would fill the sky.
We would sit huddled together to watch the fireworks. Kurt would put on a display of sound and colors. As the fireworks lit up the sky we would ooh and ah and clap with delight. I remember watching Shane and the intensity in his eyes. Maybe he realized at a young age the true meaning of the day – the meaning beyond the picnics and fireworks...
I was blessed to have both my children as students in the classroom. I remember in American literature when we were studying the works from the writers (Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, and Thomas Paine) of the revolution. Shane’s enthusiasm was apparent – when he was interested in a topic, he truly was interested! I always have quotes on my chalkboard or dry erase board. During this time of study, I placed on the board one of Thomas Paine’s most famous quotes from The Crisis, “These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.” And years later, Shane posts part of that same quote on facebook. Only this time – he is with the 101st Airborne Division, 1/327th, a Bushmaster.
I went to the cemetery a couple of days ago and read The Crisis, but this time the meaning was much deeper and the sorrow was much greater.
Recently, I met for drinks with some of Shane’s friends. Allie, Mary, and Shane were true friends. Mary, one of my former students, was kind enough to share part of a facebook message that Shane had sent her. It reads, “I'm very proud to be where I am in life right now. This is by far the hardest thing I've ever done, probably will ever do but none of that matters. I've learned how to survive with nothing, the true meanings of tired and hungry, new tolerances for pain and how to ignore the kind that doesn't get a chance to go away, that I can work under stress with a smile, that I'll do anything for my brothers, but most importantly, I've learned what kind of man I am; and that reason alone makes it all worth it. I know that if I don't come home from Afghanistan, that I'm sure as shit going out standing giving ‘em hell. I know my enemy will breath a well earned sigh of relief should that day come. I have really become someone else when I put my uniform on every day. I walk taller and harder, I speak louder and deeper, I smile less if you believe that, and don a look of seriousness and determination. It’s a lot of responsibility to represent those who have worn that uniform before me, and I won't let them down. Men like me have given us 235 years of freedom, and for that I know the hardships are paid for in full. When I go out in the real world and see some kids or teenagers living care free in the moment, that’s when I know it’s worth it.”
So, as we celebrate this Fourth of July, remember to be truly thankful for sacrifices that our members of the military make for our opportunities of freedom. When I will look to the sky this Independence Day, I will search for that special star. The one that has that special twinkle – the one that guides me in my quest to be strong.
Always and forever,
Shane’s Mammy and Beth’s Momma