Friday, April 14, 2017

The Warriors

I don't save lives, Amy said to Angus. 

Over the last couple of days, I've posted on the question of Why Music?  Shawn, Amy, and Niall are all musicians.  But Niall is also a warrior--hence the name of the book The Minstrel Boy.


The Minstrel Boy to the war has gone
In the ranks of death you'll find him
His father's sword he has girded on
His wild harp slung behind him.


I believe we need music.  Need it.  But we do also need those who fight.  For better or worse, war has been with us throughout the history of mankind.  We need those who are willing to lay their lives on the line, to risk the greatest sacrifice of all, to protect and defend their country and those who are weaker.

Niall has lost six brothers--two of them executed by the English because they defended the Scots.  His story isn't that far off the story of the Bruce himself, whose four brothers, Neil, Edward, Thomas, and Alexander, all died fighting for Scotland.  (Many historians would argue Edward wasn't exactly fighting 'for Scotland' at the time of his death, but that's a debate for a different post.)

Niall is a warrior, and Shawn, a twenty-first century celebrity musician once known for his partying and womanizing, comes to understand the seriousness of his choices:

The first sight of the English would inspire dread in the bravest troops in Christendom, it was later said.  They covered the land like locusts, tens of thousand.  Sunlight glinted off helmets, armors, spears.  White banners, too many to count, snapped over them.  The earth shook under their heavy warhorses.  Their columns stretched for twenty miles.
The Scots gathered, five thousand, for Mass, on the morning of battle.  The Bruce walked among them, marked as separate only by the thin band of gold circling his auburn hair and the suffering of leadership stamped on his face.  "We are hopelessly outnumbered!"  His voice rang like a clarion.
"Any man who wishes to turn now and go to the aid and protection of his family may do so without consequence.  'Twill be held against no man, should he choose to walk away now!"
The men heard.
The men held their ground.

In the midst of this David and Goliath struggle, the battle of Bannockburn in 1314, stands Shawn:

bannockburn, scottish history, great battles, warriors, england and scotland
English trumpets screamed through the blood.  Hairs rose on Shawn's arms.  Sweat trickled down his chest and back, inside his padded gambeson.  ...His leg wept in pain from the wolf's claws.  Back home, he'd be recuperating.  Here, every man was needed.  Old men with sunken cheeks and long gray beards and fresh-faced pubescent boys, jaws firm, stood among the strong men of Robert's army.
His heart raced.  He glanced back at Coset Hill. His pulse pounded in his throat.  He didn't want to be recuperating.  The stitches would hold.  They had to!  His damp hand slipped on his sword.  He wanted to be here, with these men and boys, between the English and Allene. 
The English charged.  His heart pulsed furiously in his throat.  He felt sick.  He wanted to run.  He squared his own jaw, awaiting orders. 


Shawn has changed to the point he is ready to stand between the might of England and Allene, even to the point of death. 


Like it or not, there is war, and I am grateful to those willing to serve.  And then there are the mothers--such as Niall's mother, who has watched her sons go to war.

Tonight, life comes close to imitating art.  My third son, my fifth child, has been at Camp Pendleton since late January.  His platoon has just finished their 'Crucible,' a 54 hour test of strength, will, and perseverance, and of all the recruits have learned for months prior.  They undergo a physical and mental challenge such as they have never endured, of physical obstacles, combat simulations, long-distance marches, and working together on very little sleep or food.  They do this for--the honor of being a Marine, of serving those they don't even know, of potentially risking their very lives for the rest of us.

Among my nine children, I have many--many--things of which to be proud--in academics, in sports, in music, in character, in volunteering for good causes, in how they have chosen to live, in laughter, in love for one another, in their choice of spouses and boyfriends and girlfriends.  Among them, they sing and play many instruments.  They share a lot of laughter and love for each other, and film wonderfully funny videos together.  (The Matriarch Strikes Back is one of my favorites--as 'my' height and voice change depending which of my kids is playing the role of 'the matriarch' at the moment.)

But I am finding there is a whole separate category for watching your son become a Marine: a man ready to live and die to protect others. 

 The waiting is hard, Christina says.  Allene tries to tell Niall how hard the waiting is. 

This past week, life has imitated art.  I have sat up late not knowing if my son finished and succeeded  at his Crucible, or if he was still struggling, pushing himself to achieve what one site tells me will be a sunrise ceremony, at a statue of Iwo Jima, where he will receive his Eagle, Globe, and Anchor.  It has been hard knowing that my child--albeit an adult--was facing the most difficult challenge of his life and I could do nothing. 

I have waited to see if anyone will call to tell me one way or another, even as I plan out the road trip to be there for his graduation ceremony.  I received a letter this morning, written on April 8, telling me he expected to finish the Crucible at dawn on Maundy Thursday--today--but I haven't heard any word. 

The waiting is hard.

Through reading and writing, through life, we learn the ways we are not so different from those who lived hundreds of years ago.  Mothers have always waited for word of their sons gone to war.  We understand the people of times gone by because we are still experiencing the same things.  My son may one day fight with and against bullets, while Marjorie Bruce's sons, and Niall's mother's sons fought with and against swords and arrows.  But the emotions are no different.  Bullets or arrows, it makes little difference--these are our sons who are going through hardship, who are maybe in danger.  Our love for them is no different.  Our memories of them as small children is no different.  Our fear for them is no different.

Tonight, I finalize my plans to be there for my son's graduation from Marine boot camp.  His siblings, all eight of them, are proud of him and doing what they can to support him.  One brother can't take time off work to be there--but he can stay at my house and take care of the pets so I can be.  Another brother can't be there (again, work) but has a gift ready for him, which his dad will pick up on the way out to the graduation ceremony. 

People like Angus...they need people like Amy, the musicians who save their souls.  And the musicians and artists need the rescuers and warriors.  Isn't this the intricate dance of life?  We are each called to our own path, we are each called to support the rest, and we are each called to our ways of helping and rescuing and lifting and saving the rest.

Congratulations and thank you to my son and to all the young men of his platoon who have completed Marine training this week and are willing to put themselves on the line for the rest of us.

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