As you may know, this past Saturday I met up with a running group that I have held near and dear to my heart, before even meeting them. I first read about them in the February issue of Runner’s World, and I encourage you to check this link out. In short, this group serves as a living memorial to service members that we have lost at war, even setting out flags to honor of the fallen, along the route.
I was early to meet the group, but there were already about 10 or so individuals there. I thought to myself, “Oh, ok, cool, nice turn out” – little did I know, within 30 minutes, this number would grow exponentially. There were families of the fallen, families of those currently at war, and others from the community who were there to show support for Run to Remember.
Before the run started, we came together as a group, forming a circle. There was a moment of silence, followed by the calling of names of those we have personally lost at war. Immediately, I was thrown into so many flashbacks of my own experience. I swore I heard the roll call from Jon’s funeral, the bagpipes, and the almost echo-like sound of the 21 shots. It was incredibly sombering, and it took everything in my power to not burst into tears at that very moment. I couldn’t bring myself to call Jon’s name, afraid I would mess up, afraid I wouldn’t be able to say those words, afraid to make it real. I know it has been 27 months, but it doesn’t mean I have come to terms with it.
Fortunately, during the run I was chatting with another runner, and kept my mind busy. I was incredibly thankful for her, and since I am downright HORRIBLE with names, hers unfortunately escapes me. Honestly, she was a Godsend. Without her, I’m sure I would have been a blubbering mess, and nobody needs to see that, definitely not strangers…
The ride home served as time enough for a good cry. Emotions ranged from anger to sorrow; finally arriving at happiness, reflecting upon the time I was fortunate enough to have with my brother. I’ll never forget how hard he was laughing, watching people wipe out on reality shows [honestly, I thought he would piss himself]. The “screw-off-I-haven’t-had-my-coffee-yet” look is, and always will be, incredibly fresh in my mind. The saved voicemails, emails, they are all there. Pathetically, I still visit his MySpace, and yes, I still have his numbers saved in my phone. Surprising him at his deployment party ranks high up there on my “best life decisions” list. I will cherish every memory I had with him, especially the very first time I saw him in uniform; it was riveting and life changing.
Kenny, my deployed little brother, is why I Run to Remember. The Optimist, my husband currently serving stateside, is Why I Run to Remember. The numerous friends, relatives, and fellow servicemembers currently serving both overseas and stateside, are why I run to Remember.
Sergeant Jonnie Lee Stiles
KIA Jalalabad, Afghanistan :: 13 NOV 2008
is Why I Run to Remember.