November 8, 2006
Observation Post 616
Sadiqiyah, Al Anbar Province,Iraq
Last night was achingly beautiful. A waning autumn moon glowed and pulsed like quicksilver against a blue-black sky. Shadowed craters etched its surface like faint tracings on a treasure half-buried in volcanic sands. Smoky clouds flung themselves at the brilliant disc for a moment before sliding on to spread moon shadows across the northern wastes. Here and there sparkling points of light glittered like icy diamonds against a hundred-million light years of space.
It was a night of stark beauty and infinite possibility. Gazing up at the sky – my face and arms bathed in milky moon shine – for a brief moment I forgot about the war. All the world was hushed beneath the silent sweep of the heavens. God felt unimaginably remote and inexplicably near at the same time. History seemed laid out to me like the glowing expanse of the sky….
Who was I? How many millions of faceless men had died over millennia of savage wars in these same ancient Mesopotamian sands? I heard the marching feet of the conquering armies: Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans; and later, Moslems, Turks, French, British – and Americans. The clash of metal and the cries of the dead and dying seemed to echo faintly through the night. Their blood coursed beneath my feet, silently seeping through the white sand and ebbing into the Euphrates.
The river was my part of the war. Just out of sight of where I stood, beyond a fringe of ghostly palm trees and graceful rushes, its silvered surface glided between silent banks. Since the Garden of Eden the Euphrates had watered this land and its people. It would continue to do so until the end of time – until the final battle fought on these worn sands choked its depth and breadth with the slain multitudes of mankind. Armageddon was the conclusion of history, the final chapter in the violent litany of this land. So where was I? What chapter was I fighting in? The introduction was clear to me, as was the conclusion. But the present –the story- was as fleeting and ethereal as the clouds that passed before my eyes.
A distant explosion drifted down to me on a cool breath of night air. It intruded upon my thoughts, bringing me solidly back to the present. Inside a nearby bunker, a radio hissed and a Marine responded anonymously in low, clipped tones. The rare beauty of the night was ruined. Duty and responsibility beckoned; always, they beckoned. Shoving my hands deep into my pockets, I stole one last, lingering glance at the timeless wheel of the stars. It is enough to live in the present if one can glimpse eternity on occasion.
Turning quickly on my heel, I ducked underneath a canvas covering and went back to the war.