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The Red Ribbon on the Mountain

December 25, 2011
A reminder for me.  I forget about the sacrifice involved in being in the military sometimes.  I shouldn't.

The red ribbon on top of Sugarloaf Mountain

He was standing a little in front as us as we reached the summit, huffing slightly with the exercise. He was wearing a beat-up tan jacket, light blue jeans and a baseball cap, and his head was bowed slightly. We came to stand next to him, chatting back and forth on various light topics. It was a glorious, cold Sunday, right before Christmas, and we felt invigorated and alive as gazed out onto miles of ponds, forest and farmland.

The man moved away briefly after Charles and I arrived, retreating to a further rock. It was then that I noticed the bright red ribbon tied to a branch, the closest one to visa before us. The ribbon was wide and thick, and the branch was thin and fragile looking; the result was festive. We continued to catch our breath and admire the scenery. A couple came by and asked Charles to snap their photo. He obliged, and then we had the couple do the same for us. They wished us a good new year as they began the hike back down.

Just as Charles and I were about to leave, the man returned once again. Upon closer inspection his face was ruddy and rough. As he passed us, he mumbled, “Just gotta re-tie it. It’s gotten loose.” Tenderly, he loosened the red ribbon, caressing the fabric with his calloused yet gentle fingers. He re-tied it slightly further down the branch, as tight as he could. And he just stood there, and looked at it.

“Sir, if you don’t mind me asking, is there a story behind that ribbon?” I asked, tentative.

He seemed shocked out of his reverie. “Yes, there is a story. Quite a story…” He swallowed. “My son is in the military. We don’t know where he is exactly; we haven’t heard anything from him since April of this year. Nothing, not a single word. It was our tradition to come up here, him and me, right before Christmas and tie an ornament to this tree… The branch was longer then, I don’t know when it broke, it must have been this past year… I came up here to tie this ribbon for my son, he isn’t here, it’s our tradition…”

He trailed off. He turned his face away quickly and walked away without another word. I saw that his eyes were wet. His hands were stuffed deep in his pockets.

Today it is Christmas. Hopefully, you are right now snuggled up in pajamas, drinking a mug of cocoa, surrounded by family and loved ones, cared for and taking care of others. Hopefully, this year hasn’t been so hard, and you have presents to give and receive, and a wonderful meal waiting for you patiently in the oven. These are the trappings of Christmas, and even as Jewish girl, I am not inured to their charms.

It is not bad to be lucky. It shouldn’t make one feel guilty to be happy on this Christmas day. But as you kiss your lover, smile at your children or gently bicker with your parents, be grateful for what you have, and remember those that are missing family and friends this year.  Remember people you have also lost.

Please remember that red ribbon tied to that thin branch, black against the sky.

Happy Holidays.

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