Image courtesy: The Tyler Parten Foundation. From left to right: Daniel, Lona, Anna Laura, and Tyler Parten.
I consider myself a lucky person who has seen a lot during my young life. I have gotten a good eduction, travelled across this great country, and am married to a wonderful woman. Three of my four grandparents are still a phone call away, and both my parents are in good health. While I sometimes forget how much I have to be thankful for and take things for granted, I try to remember how many people across the world are less fortunate, usually because their countries are run by dictators who embrace evil ideologies. I strongly believe America is a force of good in this world; put on earth by God to give hope to the seemingly hopeless. We are not a perfect country and never will be, but everyone who lives here should feel among the luckiest 300 million people on earth.
But there is nothing that makes me feel more privileged than to have met or spoken with many U.S. troops and their families as part of my former job, and in my new career as a writer and blogger. This Christmas, as I enjoy time with family and appreciate being able to celebrate this holiday as both an American and a Christian, I can't help but keep looking at a beautiful card, which includes the above picture, that I recently received from a strong, inspiring woman named Lona Parten. She will be spending a difficult Christmas without her son, 1st Lt. Tyler Parten, who died heroically in Afghanistan on September 10.
I recently wrote an article for CNN.com about this soldier, focusing on Parten's humanitarian instincts and his compelling love story with girlfriend Meg Reedy. In fact, it was the very last project I worked on in my 4 1/2 years at CNN, and I look forward to writing more about him in the future. During the course of writing and editing the article, I was able to speak with the fallen soldier's aforementioned mother. I cannot put into words how deeply the conversation affected me, and how much I admire this woman's love for God, America, and most of all, her children. The late soldier's sister, Anna Laura, started The Tyler Parten Foundation to honor her brother. Tyler's brother, Daniel, is beginning his own brave service to our country as a cadet, currently in his senior year at West Point. And the soldier's father, Dave, continues to honor the sacrifice of his late son, while also emphasizing his accomplishments as a man.
"Tyler chose a life of service, service to God and service to his country," the grieving father said at the celebration of his son's life.
During our private, emotional conversation, Lona Parten showed me what faith in God and service to country is all about. Listening to her story also reminded me of something too easy to forget: the people fighting the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are not just on the battlefield. They are in small towns and large cities all across this country, doing the best they can while their loved ones are away. We could not have won World War II without all the support our troops got at home from family, friends, and volunteers. The same principle applies to America's post-9/11 struggle against terrorism.
When I go to church tomorrow night, I will carry the card Lona Parten sent me in my pocket. After Mass, I will show the card to our holiday guests, and tell them about 1st Lt. Tyler Parten and his family. Then, we will all say a prayer for the Partens, as well as all American troops and their families.
I hope everyone has a safe and wonderful holiday.