Published: April 3, 2012
The cross was sitting on top of a cabinet in the basement between a dusty autographed basketball and a framed crayon drawing. Why I put it there, I don't know. We have a collection upstairs, but this one was relegated to a room where we have exercise equipment, a second-hand sleeper sofa and the third-best TV in the house.
The crosses displayed in our living room are decorative. One is Polish pottery in shades of blue and yellow. Another is polished olive wood. Others look like carved wood but are really plastic, more or less. A metal one was forged by my uncle, who is a blacksmith. Two are made of woven palm fronds from a long ago Palm Sunday service at a base chapel.
The cross in our basement is wooden and unfinished. It is rough and imperfectly attached to its base by a loose screw. Maybe that's part of the reason I put it downstairs. It's wobbly. Also, it doesn't match my living room decor.
While logging a couple of miles on the elliptical one day, that nondescript cross was directly in my line of vision. I thought about the journey it had taken to arrive in the bottom floor of our home. It's traveled across an ocean or two, has been sometimes displayed and sometimes left to languish in a cardboard box.
My husband brought the cross back from a deployment to what was called an "undisclosed location" about 10 years ago. It was used for Christian chapel services in the field, then presented to him. The bottom is inscribed "Operation Enduring Freedom," my husband's name and the name of a unit with which he served.
Some may think a cross does not belong in a conversation about military life, or even in a living room. Many people are offended by crosses for good reason. In the first century, the Romans used them as instruments of defeat, torture and criminal execution. Since then, crosses have been and still are used for many purposes and in the name of many causes that are far from sacred.
Regardless of those abuses, for Christians such as me the cross is not a symbol of death, defeat or domination of one group over another. Essentially, it stands for one life given on behalf of others.
To be an honorable member of the U.S. military, of course, one need not believe in this or any religious symbol. Regardless of belief or background though, military families do understand sacrifice.
With or without Christian imagery, rows of solemn grave markers in American military cemeteries from Arlington to Normandy, from Manila to Flanders Field stand for lives given to gain life and freedom for someone else.
During the deployment in which my husband was given the wooden cross, he served with Air Force pararescue jumpers, who regularly offered their lives in exchange for the lives of others.
Their creed, embodied in its final four words, says this: "It is my duty as a pararescueman to save life and to aid the injured. I will be prepared at all times to perform my assigned duties quickly and efficiently, placing these duties before personal desire and comforts. These things I do, that others may live."
This is a statement of purpose, not of faith, yet it comes closer to what Christians celebrate at Easter than some sermons. It certainly hits the mark better than any politically charged assertions of faith emanating from the current campaign trail.
So I moved my husband's cross to the living room. It still needs a spot of glue to help it stand up straight, and it still doesn't match my furniture. Perhaps the reverse principle should apply.
I would do well to remember its standard of selflessness, exemplified by my husband and those he serves alongside. An ancient teaching, translated into English, says: "Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends." Those who choose military service did not write this credo, but they live it.