But the stories didn’t stop coming in! Far from it.
Since my deadline, I’ve continued to hear from chaplains. They have stories to tell, and I wish I could tell them all. Like this one from recently retired Air Force Chaplain Lt. Col. Jeffrey Neuberger. He wrote in an e-mail to me of this encounter:
“Sanaa was a 6-year-old Iraqi girl whose legs were amputated at the hip after an explosion. As she recovered in our hospital in Balad, I watched her ‘graduate’ from the ICU to the ICW (intensive care ward). Her mother helped attend her and her brother, who lay in the bed next to Sanaa and lost portions of both legs.
Several times I walked through the ward and noticed Sanaa was not in her regular place. Each time when I asked after her, I found she was in surgery for yet another cleansing of her wounds. Because of the care she received, she became emotionally attached to the caregivers around her, and they to her.
One day I arrived at the hospital just in time to see a group of people waiting near the helicopter pad. The noise of a helicopter pounded the air. In the middle of it all was a litter, Sanaa’s litter. Sanaa was going home. She clutched a stuffed animal given to her by the hospital staff. Attending her on either side were both Americans and Iraqis—Sanaa’s mother, dressed head to toe in black, an armed soldier as a security escort and Air Force members of patient administration.
I wanted to express myself in some way, even though I couldn’t say goodbye in her language, even though I couldn’t tell her how lovely she was, even though I couldn’t tell her or her mother I was praying for their family. But I could give her a kiss.
I walked to where she could see my face, looked at her and gave her a smile and a little wave. I leaned down and kissed her forehead. I lay my hand upon her forehead and said a silent prayer for Sanaa in language that God understands.
My last glance was toward Sanaa’s mother. I smiled and nodded, and then I had to walk away. It was a difficult walk into the hospital. A few moments later I heard the sound of the chopper as it lifted off and slowly faded into the distance.
I was grateful for God's timing that day. Indeed there is 'a time to embrace.' Goodbye Sanaa. I will not see you again, and I have no idea what lies ahead for you. But God understands the language of prayer.”