Some liturgies change you.

On the way to Hancock Air Base, Union Students for Peace and Justice Emily Brewer, Nathaniel Mahlberg, and Shay O’Reilly carry small signs with the names and ages of children killed by drone strikes in the Middle East.

Sunday I carried a curious sort of cross around Hancock Air Base in Syracuse, NY. A 10-foot tall, thick wooden pole with a beam crossways at the top and a banner of a dead child hanging from it, this was a protest sign, a heavy one, one that caused my arms to tremble as I held it steady on my shoulder.

They fly the drones at Hancock. Bigger and heavier than the Predator drones, Air Force Chief of Staff T. Michael Mosely said the Reaper drones mark a shift to a “true hunter-killer role.”

The purpose of a drone is to disembody murder. One half of the killing equation leaves the scene, locates thousands of miles away, goes home every night to a warm house, kisses children to bed. The other half still dies, often also surrounded by children; there is no time for kissing. Yemeni mothers warn their children, If you don’t go to sleep, I will call the planes.

Disembodied killers still have spirits, and the ghost in the machine hurts. But this pain isn’t tangible; it can’t be measured in years cut off or pints of blood lost. It is not tallied in the log-books of war.

The drones came to Syracuse when the base was in danger of closing down; Senator Chuck Schumer fought for a replacement, for some new way of killing that might keep the nearly two hundred men and women at Hancock employed. Shortly after they came, protesters came with them.

Sunday, people sang and chanted. The police looked on idly. There was no riot gear; this crowd was old and harmless, they wore daffodils and rose when the police handcuffed them and walked them to waiting vans.

I don’t remember the words of the songs we sung, or even what we chanted. Like the taste of wine that lingers after you forget the words of the sermon,  I do remember the sign I held digging into my shoulder; I remember the exhaustion in my arms, and how I bent under the weight of this child’s dead face.