After reading the first draft of the screenplay for A Tear in the Desert, I was moved, but something didn’t sit right with the ending. In truth, I did meet with April, the woman who gave birth at the moment her husband passed away when I breathed the last word of Mother Teresa’s prayer.
The fruit of silence is prayer
The fruit of prayer is faith
The fruit of faith is love
The fruit of love is service
The fruit of service is peace.
The almost miraculous birth of Shane Jr. is amazing and fascinating to millions…but there was something much more profound to April and Shane. April had been writing little notes to Shane on Myspace.com for over two years after his funeral. Anniversaries of certain dates were particularly difficult. I, the chaplain priest was simply the messenger. Shane called for help for his beloved wife who would become a widow and mother instantaneously…the death and the birth.
At the funeral
Recently I was almost miraculously transported to the small aircraft that carried the body of a young 19-year-old Marine. His family and wife of seven months stood a few yards away, including his grandparents.
There was no doubt that his dead body was in the silver casket partially draped with a U.S. flag. The dog tag dangled as the casket was lowered before me. As I stood on the tarmac with the family just a few yards away from me…I saluted in my summer whites that were slightly tight (I am a retired reserve officer and 50 years old). It was a bright sunny day on NAS JAX (Naval Air Station Jacksonville) with thousands of people and military holding their breath.
Time truly stopped in the literary sense.
Philip’s widow approached with his parents and family.
I wanted to escape and run away back to the desert. My entire tour in Fallujah was crushing and burying my soul at that moment, but I was frozen in my uniform caught between the ultimate death and life. It has been said that when people are in an intense firefight or 9-11 experience, they do one of the following: fight, flee, freeze, feed or make love. Most of us will not know how we will respond until we are actually in it. Those that fight end up getting a medal, killed in action, or both. Some who survive physically tend to die because they didn’t do enough to save their fellow soldier, sailor, or Marine. The truth might be that in the intensity of the battle we don’t think about it, we simply instinctively do what it takes to just try to stay alive or sacrifice our own life for our friends, partner or children.
A medal that says we were heroes or heroines in battle does not soothe the wounds of helplessly witnessing violent death, even of our enemies. The military puts a heavy significance on medals, but a study of the recipients might unveil the truth. I am convinced that the true heroes and heroines are the mothers, fathers, siblings, spouses and children of the wounded and dead troops, but they would be revolted at the thought of presenting them with a medal for their sacrifice.
As the petite and beautiful teenager approached her husband’s casket in the year of her dreams of a family and choices of the infinite possibilities that the fountain of youth inspires, she simply placed her face that was flooded with tears, upon the cold and exposed metal casket that beaded with the holy water that I had just blessed it with. Human beings are composed of over 97% water. The tears of this very young woman seemed to meld with the water on the casket. Time stopped. Jacksonville and all North Florida seemed to stop and gasp.
Commanders, Marines, sailors, mayors, veterans, fathers, mothers, friends, firefighters, high school classmates, and an entire city stopped, paused and silently wept for this very long couple of minutes.
It was as if I could literally hear her tears splashing onto the casket and boring a hole through the tabernacle that once contained the tabernacle of Philip’s body. This reminded me of the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears on the night before he succumbed to a gruesome and torturous death. Can you hear the tears coursing down her face and crashing onto the feet of Jesus? The woman and the widow’s tears washed over her beloved’s feet…such intimate, sensuous love.
We all watched in paralyzing wonder and fear. Our hearts were torn asunder. All was done for love. In that moment, we saw the vision that war and hate were crushed and defeated. With tender kisses and a tear in the soul and heart… the widow’s tears melded with the soul of Philip.
“Do not be afraid.”
Jesus said it to the woman. She will be remembered for this act of kindness and love.
Now I don’t know exactly how April Kielion experienced the body of her husband for the first time after his death in Iraq back in November of 2004. However she has clearly stated that she was in denial and expected him to return home. She wasn’t convinced that it was truly her husband in the casket because she only saw his face. When the body of a Fallen Marine arrives at the funeral home for the family’s viewing, he is wrapped in the burial cloths of a formal uniform. Usually even the hands are in white gloves. Medals are meticulously placed; wonderful words of his personality and life are shared.
Philip was a man with gifts and flaws.
Shane was a man with gifts and flaws.
Both of them were and are still loved. They were sinners like you and me. They were sinners and beloved. They died too, too young.
When S.E. Kielion (Shane) was before me moments before he died… he looked like Jesus on the cross. The wounded are stripped when they come to Bravo Surgical so that we can check for all pertinent wounds and so we don’t miss anything. It seemed that Shane was vulnerably stripped and beside Jesus on the cross.
I can still see the vivid image of the Guardian angels tattooed on his chest as only a reflection of the truth of my belief. My own guardian “angel” whom I call Patrick Moses guided me to this moment with his other friend angels. The open bible on S.E.’s right side was the Open Door that St. John spoke of in the book of the “Apocalypse (Revelation).”
The scroll was sweet like honey in the mouth…
and sour and bitter in the stomach.
That day was a vision and a warning.
On the left side of his body under his arm was the third tattoo.
Like St. John, I was at the foot of the cross with the mother of Jesus, Mary and the beloved Mary Magdalene. Many won’t believe my story. Many still don’t believe the women who reported the events of the empty tomb. The angel told them:
“Don’t be amazed. I know that you are seeking Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified. He is not here. He has been raised just as he said. Come see the place where he was laid. Then go and tell the disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him.”
With that the women left the tomb and trembling and fear overtook them and they fled. And they didn’t tell anyone because they were afraid.
(Original ending of St. Mark’s Gospel)
Eventually the women had to tell the disciples even if the men wouldn’t believe them. How else would we know this story?
THE TEAR IN THE STORY
And now I am ready to tell this part of the story that began on November 15, 2004 and peaked on April of 2007 in a hotel lobby in Omaha, Nebraska. I have no choice.
“He’s alive!” as my friend Father Jeff said at the funeral Mass of Philip.
Shane is alive!
In Omaha…29 months after Shane died, I met April Kielion in that hotel lobby. I also met the living S. E. Kielion…Senior…Marine!
Just as I had anointed Shane moments before he died in Iraq, I anointed April in the hotel lobby. Shane was showing off his wife and the mother of his son. Words are inadequate to express the inexpressible and ghostly. Before I could hand over my tattered green notebook to April—Shane seemed to look into my soul and ask if he could be the one to share my tattered green notebook with his beloved wife. I sat in awe and disbelief as the two of them held my scribbled written words. The original version of the story in my journal is almost identical to the edited version in my book Tear in the Desert.
(April and I calculated that with the time zone difference, Shane Jr. was born within a half hour of Shane Sr.’s death, if not the same minute.)
April and Shane were alive again. He gently held her, caressed her and kissed her. He comforted her and reassured her. He was no longer just a Marine; he was much, much more.
April knew that this would be the last encounter in this world…and protested…
She looked at me and stated, “He didn’t have three tattoos. He only had two.”
I couldn’t see with my physical eyes, but with the inner eye and ear, I could see and hear Shane insisting he was right there more present than in her dreams. He was firm. He basically said, “April, my beautiful and beloved Baby…I must go. I can only be in your dreams from now on…but I am with you always until the end of time. Don’t be afraid. You need to move on and fall in love again. Trust me. I want you to fall in love and have another child. She will be beautiful…and she will reflect your beautiful soul. I love you April…I always have and in all ways I will.”
Of course I wasn’t able to actually hear these words, for that was a sacred moment, a gift from God. But it was real and it really happened. It is a real love story that seems to travel down the face like a slow and gentle tear. Do you hear it?
April couldn’t speak. Her tears just flowed and mingled with his tears somewhere between heaven and earth.
Tear of love and tear of hope,
a tear of heart and a tear of eternity,
a tear in the desert and tear in my soul…o my!
Philip Paul Clark
Laid to rest
His burial stone rests against the tree.
The tears of his wife Ashton and the holy water remain on the casket under the flag.
Thanks and praise
For our days
Neath the sun, neath the stars, neath the sky
As we go, this we know
God is nigh!
Father Ron Moses Camarda + June 2010