I was actually looking at a Sunday paper insert in 2004, noticing the fact that the highschool football schedules were printed in full for the entire state of Oklahoma, when I glanced at the front page picture one more time. There were about 30 boys in dirty gray t-shirts, white practice pads, white helmets, all standing in such a way that there were no faces turned to the camera. They were rallied around the 50 yard line of their field, and they all had their arms up in the air giving each other their contribution to the ultimate high-five! 30 boys with their backs turned, obscured by all the others, and yet - there was one boy with a curve, a certain ever-so-slight curve to the tricep of his left arm - it belonged to my son.
I had NO idea that the picture in the state's largest paper was a picture of the Putnam City Pirates. Being in their practice clothes, there were no mascot logos, no symbols of the school, and even though each helmet had the players' individual numbers, it would have been impossible for me to have read the number 63 on the helmet without using a magnifying glass - but I did catch something very familiar in the turn, the curve of the arm of the boy whose helmet I did examine closer, and found the helmet to bear the number 63. This was my son's arm. I felt odd about it.
I tell you that to tell you this. Yesterday, May 23, 2007, I walked into Starbucks at Danforth and Sante Fe in Edmond, Oklahoma - MY Starbucks, if you will. There on the stand where they sell the various newspapers for the day was a stack of New York Times - with a photo of a group of boys all wearing virtually the same thing - Army fatigues. There in the crowd of men, all hunkering down to avoid a sand storm, and to assist an injured Iraqi soldier, I saw the bend, the bow, the squat, the form - of what could have been my baby boy. It wasn't of course. My son is in Alaska, driving tanks and preparing to defend us when the time comes - but an overwhelming feeling hit me about this ONE soldier. He wasn't my Reuben, but he was someone's son. The others didn't affect me, just the one that so closely resembled my son - it was over a minute before the manager came up to me, wrapped her arm around me and took the paper from my hands - tears were falling all over Page One from my nearly-always-nonmascaraed eyes.
"Jude, he's OK. He's in Alaska. That's not him." She tried to console me, and usually I don't get that emotional over a picture of a group of men who just happen to be in the Army, or in this case, in war. The thought of my son's curve, his arm, his union in that collective high-five flooded over me - this boy, this baby boy belonging to another mother out there, somewhere - deserved a tear, he deserved a prayer, they all did. He just happened to be the one whose butt, back and thighs looked like my own son's when he was so often positioned on the gridiron about ready to strike the quarterback for the opposing team.
My hero is in the field today. He could be a she. She could be a he. They are one. Defending me.