Tuesday, May 3, 2016, will forever rank among the darkest days of my adult life. On that date, a childhood friend from Arizona, someone I had grown into manhood with and whose boundless optimism had forever been a source of strength, gave his life saving others on the battlefields of Iraq. Special Warfare Operator First Class Charles Keating IV laid down his life defending others, cut down in his youth by a band of barbarians loyal to a medieval death cult.
To think that a man such as Charlie—who epitomized the very essence of youthful optimism, confidence, and the joy of life—is gone is nothing short of staggering. Several hours after receiving the news of Charlie’s death, I sat in numb disbelief and grief as an election season that has descended into nothing more than tribalism and rage played out on the television. Unable to contain myself any longer, I turned off the news, sat down beside my wife, put my head in her lap, and sobbed. The agony and helpless rage of the loss flowed out of me in a way that hasn’t happened in many years.
I wept for all the lost chances. I wept for all the dreams that had once seemed within grasp and ours for the taking, only to see them slip away with the steady advance of the years. I wept for the loss of hope and integrity to fear and opportunism. I wept for a country that now seems so self-absorbed, many can only feign appreciation for those who make the ultimate sacrifice on our behalf.
I wept for a generation of Americans who are more concerned with imagined privilege, “safe spaces,” and self-validation than appreciation for the men and women thanklessly defending them in far-off lands. But most of all, I wept for the 14-year-old kid with laughing eyes and a smile on his lips whom I can still see in the hallways of our elementary and middle schools. I wept for the memories of when we would chide each other over who worked harder in sports (he was the champion runner and I was the champion swimmer).
For the time in eighth grade when I first awkwardly asked a girl out, and Charlie stood grinning over my shoulder saying, “What? I don’t want to miss anything!” For the pride and awe I felt when he first told me he’d earned his coveted Trident. For all those missed opportunities when I could have spent more time with him, told him what an inspiration he was to so many, and how he comprised the very best of what I strive to be. For his wife, family, and friends left behind, I wept.
The Day the Music Died
Charlie’s death brought the sense of an ending, an ending to a world I once knew that has changed in ways I still cannot truly describe or fathom. In a country…