Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. Christmas Eve 2008.

How strange, lord, is your timing. Why, of all evenings, this evening?

It has been over a month since we stood at attention along the sides of this road, each waiting quietly, thoughtfully. Until tonight, one could almost imagine that peace had broken out somehow, and we were simply too busy to heed the good news, pack up, and go home. Now, the snow-covered mountain peaks that surround us are barely visible in the gathering gloom.

In the dusky dimness far to our right, the procession of military vehicles emerges onto the road and slowly approaches, passing between the ranks of a thousand or more soldiers, sailors, and airmen drawn up on either side of the asphalt strip for the Fallen Comrade Ceremony. The flag-draped steel casket is just visible from behind, as the open Humvee glides by and turns toward the tarmac to deliver its burden to a westbound C-17. Without command or signal, all salute as it passes.

Somewhere, a family has just learned that a son, a brother, is coming home from the war. A Christmas homecoming. Out not as they had hoped.

Why, Lord, do you allow this time, of all times, to become for some a memorial of searing pain? To touch all future Christmas celebrations with a sadness that can never in a lifetime be entirely wiped away?

How often I have heard from patients and acquaintances, "I can't enjoy Christmas. Too many bad memories. "for many, those memories are sullied by family conflicts, personal betrayals, alcohol-fueled rage. Or perhaps by nothing more than petty arguments about presents—gifts laid aside and forgotten long before the resentment died.

But this? This is something of an entirely different order: the cost of freedom and duty all lovingly ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.