Today on the message board at snopes.com, someone posted a link to this article about eleven Marines killed in Iraq-- or rather, about the twelfth man in their squad, the one who was not killed by the roadside bomb with his comrades.
The men in this squad ranged in age from 19 to 25. The boy who did not die, Lance Corporal Travis Williams, is 21.
I know little enough about how close a squad of soldiers can become; I've never been in the military and I don't claim any sort of firsthand knowledge. Yet I know from my own life that the closest friendships I've formed, the strongest bonds, have been the ones born of adversity, the ones where we were working towards a common goal. The ones where we needed to trust each other and build upon each other's strengths, the ones where our striving together against the odds made our friendship into something strong and enduring. If I may form lifelong friendships in this way, here in comfort and safety in the complacent midwest, how much stronger must that be amongst people who face death together on a daily basis?
We were trying to get the college newspaper out on time. We were trying to form a new chapter of a service fraternity. There was stress. There was never danger.
These young men were trying to survive together, trying to battle what they saw as threats against our nation. They had to trust each other with their very lives. And in this squad, they did. In the article, the squad's platoon commander is quoted as saying, "They were like a family. They were the tightest squad I've ever seen. They truly loved each other."
The word I've most often heard used to describe the bonds formed between soldiers is "brotherhood." I have a brother. I understand brothers.
So I try to imagine, for the sake of this young Marine, how would it be if some tragedy were to happen, if my brother died while I lived? That would be a grief beyond words, a sorrow beyond compare. It is too much a horror to contemplate.
My heart breaks for this young lad in Iraq. So much death, so much loss.
Is he lucky to be alive?
The theological part of me says yes. If there is life, then there is hope.
But the part of me who is a sister, the part who understands what brotherhood means? I only understand the palest shadow of his grief and how he will rage at the heavens because he was not killed by that bomb with his beloved brothers. This part of me understands that life may not be luck at all.