My first indication of a visiting vessel was the coffee-grinder-like sound of a bow thruster. My passengers—a former Recon Marine father and his 37-year-old son—helped the newcomers tie up, and before long, the steady beat of conversation drifted through my boat’s open window. I joined my friends outside. Our neighbors, a mother, father, and 28-year-old daughter, carried an effortless air of kindness as the conversation deepened.
We explained to our three guests, none of whom were veterans, that we were out on the water to help the son make peace with himself and the haunting memories of years earlier as a combat Marine in Iraq. I had offered to listen, assuming long resolved my 1991 war experiences flying the Navy A6 Intruder. Recently nominated for a Purple Heart, this well-deserved decoration had stirred up my friend’s long-dormant trauma. I cautioned my friend to prepare himself—having a bone-chillingly honest discussion of his wartime experiences would almost certainly involve a few tears. I had no idea how many of those tears would be mine.
Ten minutes later, we were all—new neighbors included—reduced to tearful hugs. In a discordant affectation of reality, I realized that the son’s trauma reflected my own as he attempted to reconcile haunting memories and circumstance-forced participation in the horrors. My combat experiences wore on me for precisely the opposite reason: I acknowledged responsibility for killing dozens, perhaps hundreds, of people, but this would forever be a number shrouded in mystery and left to my imagination to ponder in the lonely night stillness.
And in the middle of this emotional mess was this caring family, strangers, offering an example of warm humanity as they attempted to lighten the burden of our pain. The moment provided a snapshot of how life could and should be, of the unconditional love that we all would do well to emulate
Even while reliving life’s most disturbing memories, there lies goodness, guardian angels arriving from beyond to offer solace to life—and death’s—eternal bargain.