‘Howdy, my name is John Rangel. I’m honored to be your Muster Host tonight.”
The grieving family stared back at me and shook my hand. A few pleasantries were exchanged, tissues were fetched while a member cried, and we walked silently to their seats. It wasn’t until I was back in the Muster Host room that I noticed my hands were shaking.
It was the hardest 15 minutes of my college life. It also capped the best experience I could have as an Aggie.
I applied to be a Muster Host out of a desire to give back to Texas A&M, but a large part of my application was also motivated by simple curiosity. I had a personal link to each of A&M’s other traditions, but Muster remained a mystery; I’ve stood and swayed with the 12th Man at football games, grieved with friends at Silver Taps and dug deep into the stories behind campus through this newspaper. I attended Muster my freshman year, and was suitably awed. But the names were still just names.
That all changed with this year’s Reflections Display. As a Muster Host I had the privilege to watch over the items families chose to display on behalf of their loved ones, and slowly the names and class years came to life. Some led lives startlingly close to mine. They were involved in men’s and women’s organizations, they studied and worked and had fun with friends. Their parents visited them on weekends. They dated and fell in love. Our only difference was a heartbeat.
More than anything, the Reflections Display motivated me to be the best Muster Host I could be. I agonized for two hours over a letter we would handwrite to our families. I rehearsed the first sentence I would say when we met, the different conversations I might have and what I might do if something went wrong. I envisioned myself as the best comforter, a patient listener and a model Aggie.
Reality had other plans. After my introduction, the family largely kept to themselves. I asked a few questions to break the silence; they politely replied. The member most affected by their loss couldn’t stop crying. I didn’t know what to do. After a few minutes I led them to their seats and pinned a corsage to the crying member, who joked that I probably had plenty of experience from prom to calm my unsteady fingers. I never found out if the one they honored was her husband or brother. They were gone before I could say goodbye after the ceremony.
I was upset — I wanted to make a difference, and I felt like I had not until I realized I had forgotten what the purpose of Muster and being a host was. Muster is about remembrance and finding joy in a life fully lived. Muster Hosts are there to serve the honored families in any way they need. The family I shook hands with didn’t need me to talk or to comfort them — they had each other for that. I simply needed to show them their seats, and keep calm and composed until we parted. Never has something so simple been so hard.
I wish I could say I lifted a family’s grief or made a difference in their lives, but I didn’t. I simply stood by their side for 15 minutes, showed them their seats and whispered ‘here’ for their loved one. It was the least I had and the most I could do, and I hope to do the same when Muster is once again called April 21, 2016.