On the eve of Veterans Day, country singer and U.S. Army vet Craig Morgan performed a concert at the Warner Theatre in Washington - with a slight twist. After he performed his own set, Morgan invited several other Nashville songwriters for a "writers' round," where singers tell the stories behind their songs.
Joining the writers onstage was Taya Kyle, widow of Chris Kyle, the U.S. Navy SEAL known as the deadliest sniper in American military history; after serving in the Iraq War, Chris Kyle was shot and killed in 2013 by a fellow veteran after he returned home. His story gained worldwide fame due in part to Chris Kyle's book, "American Sniper," and Bradley Cooper's Oscar-winning movie of the same name.
Taya Kyle has become an outspoken advocate for veterans and military families and recently signed a deal with Fox News Channel as a contributor. A friend of the Morgan family, Taya Kyle didn't sing onstage, but she did participate in the storytelling.
Four months ago, Morgan's 19-year-old son, Jerry, drowned in a tubing accident in Tennessee. Last week, Morgan posted a video on Facebook in which he thanked the country music community and fans for their support, though he said he's still not ready to talk about it. Though he didn't mention the tragedy directly, at one point during Thursday's concert, Morgan turned to Taya Kyle and asked how she was able to find joy in life, despite suffering loss.
"We've all lost someone - and I don't mean to bring us all down," Morgan said. "But it's tough when you lose someone close . . . and we've all experienced it at different points in our lives. When I met you, you had such joy. And I think that's so important. I'd like to just know, where do you find the inspiration to maintain that joy and that sense of moving forward?"
Kyle acknowledged it was a "really great, deep question," although very complex. She started by saying she learned early in life after a family member's death that "there is no fair," and her faith helped her after she had experiences that made her realize that was life after death. Here's the rest of her powerful response:
"I had my worst nightmares and my worst anxieties and they came true, you know? There were things I never wanted to know if I could survive. And I had the opportunity to see [military wives] go before me who had lost their spouses - they were living out my worst nightmare at a time when I was most afraid. We'd go there and be there for them and I would recognize that here their life is crumbling. It was never going to be the same, it was over as they knew it, and probably they wanted it to be over, period.
"And I had two little babies, and I had to go to the grocery store and make dinner and I remember having conversations with Chris about how life goes on. And it was very hard for me to understand that the world kept turning, life kept moving and all of us were living our lives, and this person's life was over as they knew it. So I kind of came to grips with how that worked and didn't like it.
"Then I think my faith over time - maybe it's a good thing, maybe it's a bad thing, but I tend to stuff my pain and bury it and save it for a later day. And I tend to compartmentalize and I learned that in life in the military. But before life in the military, before I had fears and babies to feed and things to juggle and the only way to make it was to compartmentalize, I probably would have ended up in a hole at the loss of Chris, in a hole that I couldn't get out of. And I was still scared of that after it happened.
"But I learned somehow that you just keep going. And I learned somehow through all of the things that struck me before, that God was there more and more in my weakest times and I actually could count on it, and I could physically feel God's strength if I just focused on it enough.
"So I say that because I remember at the time that I found out, I had this nausea just sort of wash over me of how this was going to go. And whether I wanted the world to go on or not, it was going to, and I better get real tough real fast and make it happen.
"It's a complicated question. It was some of that. The other part of it was my kids. And the other part is, it's not a brave thing at all, it's actually kind of cowardly - I was straight-up scared. I was scared to cry. Scared to let the walls down. Scared that if I went to that darkest place I really felt, that I would not come out of it, and I had to work through that and find the courage in time, to find places in times where I could let it out, or it would just live there simmering under the surface forever, and have me constantly on the verge of a breakdown.
"So I think that I learned over time, to compartmentalize, is the biggest thing. To have the joy where the joy is, because life is short and it could end tomorrow. And if I'm super, super honest about why I think I'm okay, it's because I believe that Chris is still with me. And if I really didn't think I'd ever see him again, I wouldn't make it.
"Having said that, I just appreciate the opportunities that I have. I love the fact that our pain can maybe turn around and help somebody else with it. That to me is a really big deal. And I love being inspired by people like you, who have lived lives and had hardships and moved on and made great things happen.
"I feel like if God had asked me and said, 'Look, I'm going to give you all these lessons in life, you're going to see the most beautiful things that you could ever imagine seeing, and you're going to see the best in people, and sometimes the worst in people, and all these things - and you'll see Chris again, but I'm going to take him from you today. Are you willing to do that?' I wouldn't have been willing. And even today, I'd give it all up for more time with him.
"But I'd be a fool to ignore what's in front of me, and I'd be a fool to not live this life and see the blessings for what they are and see the beautiful people in this world who are stronger than I am and who do more things than I do and try to give back, pay it forward, keep moving, all of those things. So I feel like if that's a long-winded answer to your question, I feel like it's just a combination of a lot of things that give me moments of joy. And then those moments of heartbreak, too."
Emily Yahr covers pop culture and entertainment for the Post.
(c) 2016, The Washington Post · Emily Yahr