Maria Holland

O Death, Where Is Your Victory?

In Uncategorized on May 18, 2010 at 9:32 pm

I started the day with Mass.  I haven’t made it over to church on weekday mornings much this year, but today I really had to.  My uncle, Lt. Col. Daniel Holland, was killed in Iraq four years ago today, and while I’ve since observed this anniversary in very different places, they have all had one thing in common – prayer for the repose of his soul.  In 2007 I was in Rome, where we offered Mass for them at the Pantheon and said the Stations of the Cross on the Santa Scala; in 2008 I was in Poland, where we offered Mass for them in Krakow and visited Auschwitz; and in 2009 I was at my grandparents’ cabin in the mountains of New Mexico. 

At noon, I met some friends for lunch on campus; it was an opportunity to catch up with Vikki, who I hadn’t seen in a long time.  I had two classes afterwards but skipped the second one because of a headache.  I felt much better after sleeping for a few hours so I got up, threw some things into my backpack and 赶快ed over to Gulangyu. 

I have said before, and I’ll say it again, that I’m not the biggest fan of Gulangyu (the small island off my island).  I contest its status as an idyllic serene paradise; the droves of paradise-seeking tourists tend to ruin the idyll and serenity.  But I wanted to see it in another light – namely, no light.  I figured that it would be a much more peaceful place at night, and decided that today was the perfect day to make a small retreat to the small island. 

The island has an international youth hostel and several other places to stay, but a guy from church said that if I just talked to Sister, they would let me stay at the church.  One of Xiamen’s two churches is on Gulangyu, and the priests and sister live in the adjacent building.  I just mentioned it to Sister on Sunday, but apparently that was all it took because Bishop Cai asked me this morning if I was still coming.

So I made my way over to the church, where Fr. Zhao let me in and showed me to a simple room with two beds.  I dropped my stuff off there and went down the street to the concert hall, where I met up with some friends for a violin concert.  I know, right?  So classy!  It was the senior recital of a XiaDa student, and quite a nice way to begin my night on Gulangyu, which is alternately known as Piano Island and Music Island.  I wasn’t incredibly impressed with her playing because (is it cliche to say this about a Chinese musician?) it lacked emotion.  Her teacher was quite good, though, and the duet they ended with was really enjoyable.  In addition to that, it was worth going just to hear the super-enthusiastic announcer (seriously, he made my day), and to watch the poor girl get inundated with approximately 200 flowers and – no joke – two life-sized stuffed animals at the end of the recital. 

Aleid, Jelle, Yerkin and I shared a drink (Dan would approve, right?) on a balcony with a view of Xiamen’s skyline, then they went home and I returned to the church for the night. 

IMG_2798

Even more than the free room on the island, I appreciated the proximity of said room to the church.  Specifically, if I exited my room, walked down the hallway past three doors, turned a corner, and went up about five steps – I found myself in the choir loft of our quaint century-old church.  It was perfect, just where I wanted to be this night.  I stayed there for about an hour before going to bed, just spending some time in quiet prayer. 

I was really happy with how everything worked out.  I leave for Jilin in two days and there’s a lot to get done before I go; I knew that if I stayed in the dorm I would end up saying a few quick prayers but anything more would get lost in the shuffle.  I was feeling pressured and a little bit stressed out, but as soon as I left the room (and my computer, and my textbooks, and my to-do list) behind, I felt light and free. 

Also, I know that if I had stayed in my room my main way of remembering Daniel would be to read through the journal entries I wrote immediately after his death and in the months following.  May 2006 was a really difficult period in my life.  Uncle Dan’s death was obviously the worst thing that happened, but the fact that it came just days before my graduation from high school and days before me breaking up with my boyfriend of nearly two years certainly didn’t help things.  Needless to say, going back to read those entries is like walking down memory lane, but it’s a lane that’s haunted and reeks of despair.

But tonight I didn’t allow myself to brood over those entries and to relive those feelings.  Instead, I prayed the Office of the Dead, featuring this reading from 1 Cor 15:55-57 – “O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?  But thanks be to God who has given us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Instead, I said a rosary and meditated on the Glorious Mysteries – including the Resurrection.  Instead, I found myself reminded not of the pain of his death, but of our faith in Christ’s resurrection and our hope in eternal life.  It helped . . .

LTC Holland - Composite

If you’ll indulge me, I’ll share a little bit about my uncle.  He was the youngest of my dad’s nine siblings, the spoiled baby of the family.  He was also the fun young uncle, the one who either willfully broke rules or believed they didn’t apply to him.  He lived all over the world as an Army brat and then an officer himself, but never lost his Texas drawl. 

I spent most of my life living far away from my extended family, but we lived in the same state as his family for a while when I was young, visited them often when they lived farther away, and once even went to Germany to see them.  We played a lot of games together, especially group Solitaire (the Holland family tradition, of which he was the undisputed champion).  I also remember being unusually outdoorsy with him – going swimming and tubing, playing (okay, watching) basketball, and shooting guns. 

He went to OSU (no bio, however short, would be complete without mentioning that) through the ROTC program and went straight into the Army as a member of the Veterinary Corps.  Yes, the Army has veterinarians; they take care of military working dogs and horses, oversee food supply to bases, and do humanitarian missions.  Daniel went to Iraq with a civil affairs unit in April of 2006; in one of the few emails we received from him he told us that they went out to:

evaluate Iraqi sites that pertain to public health, vet med, animals, or agriculture.  The idea being to encourage civil participation, collect civil information, and to positively impact the average Iraqi citizen by helping them with their subsistence style of ag/animal husbandry.  Frankly, we can make more progress helping
here than working on huge national problems that take forever to impact and don’t resonate with the average Haji. 

He was killed when the Humvee he was traveling in hit an IED.  Nick Cournoyer, Robert Siedel, Lonnie Allen, and an Iraqi interpreter were also with him in the vehicle that day; they died together and today I remember them together in my prayers.

I’ll never forget the way he would say hello to me (a rib-crushing hug and a lilting “Hey, Li’l Cissy!”), but his trademark was the way he said goodbye.  Without fail, he would say “Glad you got to see me!” with a grin on his face that showed how inordinately pleased he was with his clever farewell.  Now it’s engraved on his tombstone, but I find it no less fitting since he passed away – because we are glad that we got to see you, Uncle Daniel.

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  1. Beautiful thoughts and words, Maria. BUT let me be the first to correct you that that was an Okie accent Daniel had. You’ll probably be hearing from the Oklahoma contingent on that.

  2. You have an amazing way with words. I loved your blog, sweetie.

  3. Maria, a very lovely tribute to your Uncle! I know your Mom already pointed out one error but it wasn’t the worst though: what do you mean “undisputed champ” of Solitaire?!! Hello?!! I definitely dispute that! We all know I was the best! Now Becca is but that is only ’cause she can handle the floor…………..
    I know, right?

  4. I, too, loved and cried through your blog. BUT, another correction looms. Becca is the Solitaire champ because (and only because)she plays just like Uncle Dan…uses all his strategies, is just as violent on the carpet as he was!!!

  5. Maria,
    I hope you remember me…I was your Dad’s roommate at West Point and I also shared an appartment with your dad and your Aunt Cathy at Fort Hood, Texas. I also had wicked crushes on a couple of your Aunts at various different times but we won’t get into that!!! I was really moved by your words about your Uncle Dan. He was truly a great guy. His loss in Iraq is one of those great tragedies of war that has been replicated all over this country far too many times over the past several years. Dan had a big personality that drew people to him, even those of us that were a bit older than him. I used to love to see him at the ranch in OK and at Texas A&M during his year as an Aggie. He also occassionally came to Fort Hood during the time your Dad and Aunt and I shared the appartment there. Daniel was always the life of the party but always in a very good and fun way. I know that he will be forever missed by his family…your words were a great testimony to that fact. Daniel’s own words in his letter that you quoted are also a great testimony to Daniel as a man and as a Veterinarian/Soldier. He is essentially talking about the role of veterinary medicine as being as much about helping people as animals. My youngest daughter is preparing her application for vet school and I’m sure she’ll find find inspiration from Daniels words as she writes her own personal statement about why she wants to be a vet. Thanks for helping all of us to take a little time to remember Daniel. Mike Schneider

    • Hi, of course I remember you! Thanks for sharing your memories of Dan, as you probably knew him even better than I did. Best of luck to your daughter in vet school – she has some good role models to follow!

      ~ Maria

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