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One year later

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Jacob Gutierrez
  • 20th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

One year later and the grass isn’t any greener. In fact, it’s the same shade, albeit a little shorter.

Faces have reemerged amid a waning pandemic to allow the chance for an expression, but our collective countenance hasn’t quite caught up.

Physically, there is nothing new under the sun.

The sun has risen and set 365 times since June 30, 2020. When I get up in the morning, I hear the sound of the jets rumbling on as the mission continues. While they may not look any different, the sound is so far away now.

Because for just a fleeting moment, 365 sunrises and sunsets are reversed and I am there again. I’m out in that hot and hazy field adjusting my camera as the sun rises and the hundreds of yellow flags begin to fully reveal themselves.

In between the blades of grass scratching at my hands, I capture pieces of an accident that will never be pieced together in my mind, never allow for total absolution. If they account for anything, it is only a small amount of consolation for those who care to see it that way.

This memory is fleeting, as so many are. It only lasts for a moment, but it never fails to reappear.

When I allow the past to echo, it is soft. But for others, I know it thunders.

Throughout the past year, we have tried to make sense of what happened that night. Words are powerful, but they can’t rewrite the human condition. They cannot change time. They cannot alleviate loss.

Grief is truly an incomprehensible reality. The paradox permits us to struggle to understand it, and at the same moment of clarity, it tears us apart.

I didn’t know Lt. David Schmitz. If our paths crossed, it was in the necessity of our respective duties. The photographs I took that morning are not the impression I carry, despite the persistence of memory. Instead, I look to those around me to cope with a loss I can only feel from afar.

Admittedly, it has been difficult to get a clear picture of how people are coping. The many faces of grief have presented themselves accordingly, but inadvertently I’ve also seen something else.

I see the people who wept, and are still angry, and are still heartbroken continue to prevail. So, I get up in the morning with the sounds of the world and see another sunrise and I remember how they carry their grief, but I also see the courage they carry as well.

We continue to remember, because while grief lingers one year later, courage lasts forever.