by Scott Zagarino
Marble starts out as a chunk of stone rooted in the ground that resists removal from its station mightily. It takes brute force to uproot it from its place. Then as an ugly, stubborn chunk it has to be moved by heavy equipment to a place to be cut, shaped and polished until what was once an ugly piece of the earth becomes a beautiful, hard surface brought into service as a floor or a kitchen counter.
There is one more purpose it serves that rises far above the mundane household uses. What was once of the earth becomes of the spirit when it marks a life no longer lived. Most times it marks the cradle to grave passing of a person of the everyday accomplishment of a father, son, brother, sister or friend.
But occasionally there is a rock dug from the earth meant to mark an extraordinary and heroic life. Not long ago I stood before just that special piece of marble on a small piece of ground off the beaten path at the Special Operations Warrior memorial wall in Florida. As I walked from the parking lot and caught my first glance of the yards of cool black marble inscribed to honor and memorialize men and women who had given the most precious thing given to all of us, their lives, I began to feel. It was a feeling of appreciation that any words I write here could not begin to describe.
The black, veined rock had come to a confluence of rest with the souls of people who walk among us but not with us. There was one name I searched for because I knew at least a part of the story that caused the marble slab to bear his name. After walking around the memorial feeling more and more a mixture of sadness, appreciation and a kind of awe took over that I may have felt sometime before, but couldn’t remember when.
Then as if I had always been meant to stand in that place, I found myself standing in front of a small, square piece of black marble with the carefully carved inscription, “Lt Michael P Murphy.” I disappeared into a sobbing, shattered shadow of the person I had been when I’d woken in my hotel that morning. What was left of Lt Murphy was not a piece of rock, it was a reminder of the heights each of us are capable of rising to from one singular motivation. A motivation I, and most of us, rarely recognize, acknowledge or ever have the chance to act on. A motivation that is the very quality we each squander daily as we race through our lives of never enough. A motivation that makes everything else in the world pale and disappear into the background. The motivation wrought by our total and complete love for our brothers and sisters.
For Michael Murphy, that meant making the choice to stand up, as bullets flew through and by him, pick up a satellite phone and make a phone call that I am sure he knew would be the last act of this life. That phone call was a plea for anyone on the other end to please come to the rescue of his brothers who were being torn apart by enemy fire that there was no escape from. And then Lt Michael Murphy was gone.
But I met Michael Murphy. I met him on a wall sitting in a patch of grass in a small field in Florida. I met him, because that piece of marble that had been so stubborn and rugged would forever stand in that place to remind me, and anyone who stands before it, we all have a chance to rise. We all have a chance to give and serve something precious to us to someone and something bigger than ourselves.
Before I left that place, I rubbed my hand across that cold, dark slab and made a vow to Lt Murphy. Writing this now it may sound insignificant given what he’d given me, but I promised him that as long as there was a Fight Gone Bad I would do everything I could to make sure he was not forgotten, and that as many people as I could reach would not forget him either. At least for seventeen minutes once a year.
On September 17th, every one of us has a chance to rise above ourselves, throw some money in the hat for the people we can help, and say thank you to Lt. Michael Murphy for reminding us who we can be. He gave us the chance to be heroic in our own way.
Let us not, in the words of Theodore Roosevelt, “….be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”
Lt. Murphy will never stand or lie in that place.
I hope you’ll join us this year on September 17th.