These last few weeks have been ones of death and dying; a month of contemplating the purpose of pain and the meaning of suffering. It is a time for revisiting places of meditation, pondering the spaces man has devised for grappling with the eternal questions of mortality.
The famous chapel on the grounds of the United States Air Force Academy nestled at the base of the Rocky Mountains is more truly a cathedral. Outwardly, it is all sleek silver-wing metal, with seventeen external buttresses, knifing severely skyward. Designed to evoke an air-frame, the architecture does not immediately summon spiritual devotion.
Photo credit: Helena Yoest
But cross the threshold, step inside, and one is transported to another plane. The solemn air is bathed in the soft splendor of muted light. While the stern steel silhouette dominates the external view, the interior reveals the fragile panels of stained-glass that the harsh ribs support. The intricate glass panes filter and animate the sunlight, illuminating the sacred space with almost a visual hush.
At the front of the chapel, a single row is roped off. “Reserved” the sign says, for all the United States aviators who are missing in action or prisoners of war. The only occupant of the pew is a single, burning candle.
“Greater love hath no man than this. . .” reads the plaque. The Scripture it alludes to concludes: “that a man lays down his life for his friends.”
My thoughts immediately fly to my boy, my sweet Dude, who wants to be a fighter pilot. And baby Boo, who will almost certainly want to follow his older brother. My heart blanches. How could I bear it? And yet so many other mothers — gold-star mothers — even this very day, must find a way when their sons have given the last measure of devotion.
The war in heaven, and its reflection that we see through a glass darkly, is one of the great mysteries of human life. The existence of egregious earthly evil is incomprehensible. . . yet for every act of aggressive hatred is its spiritual foe — the love of humans one for another that confronts and overcomes all would-be destroyers.
At the back of the chapel, a Lucite case displays a picture of a little boy who was “Cadet for a Day.” In a series of three pictures, we saw a grinning boy, sitting in a cockpit dressed in a flight-suit, surrounded by a smiling corps of cadets.
My husband was drawn to the display immediately, wanting such a grand experience for the Dude, our own boy.
Down at the bottom of the picture, however, in small type, the caption read: Make-a-Wish Foundation.
No, no. Not my boy.
Where are the answers? Why must the innocent suffer? The vast, vacant space of the chapel responds with a twilight hush.