strength and honor (a review of the little boy in the tree by roland russoli).

image I do not know very much about the military or about military service. Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day have always just been days off from school. That’s why I thought Memorial Day weekend would be a good time to read my friend Roland Russoli’s book about the years in his life after his son Andrew, a marine, was killed in Iraq.

I did not know Andrew very well. I saw him at church a few times and shared a meal with him the summer before he died. My church community was proud of him and has grieved him, and I have borne witness to their grief because I see the hole that he has left in their lives even though I was not so personally affected.

Roland’s book is structured around the emails that he sent to his friends and family after Andrew died. These emails, sent early in the morning and late at night, were honest and witty and descriptive. At the time, Roland and his wife lived overseas, first in Mongolia and then in Mauritania, so his stories are peppered with those experiences. Although he does not specifically say this, I am sure it was hard to be so far away from friends back home, but the differences he faced seemed to help him grieve this terrible change in his own life.

Roland has been a great encouragement to me as a parent and a reminder to be patient with my own little boy who likes to climb trees (and pews and furniture). On a recent Sunday, when Atticus was a little more squirmy than I wanted him to be, I specifically thought about how Roland might want me to respond, which helped me take a breath and remember that Atticus has a place in the community, too. One day soon we will tell him about Andrew and his motto, Strength and Honor. I hope Atticus learns that he is beloved in the same way by our community.

I recommend Roland’s book for people who have experienced grief, especially the pain of losing a child, or who are walking through it now. It is a powerful reminder of the very real cost of war.

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