Earlier this month I began working on new piece for Memorial Day and as things often do, more of life interfered with my writing of it. That is when I began to seriously consider using an older piece. As the day keeps approaching and I keep getting closer to finishing a new one I could not help but want to post this older piece anyway. So I give to you a piece I wrote in 2006, it is my favorite (so far) that I have written for this special upcoming holiday. I hope that it will become one of yours as well….
I always struggle with my words when I write for this holiday and yet when I can finish one I manage to say something, even if it isn’t award winning material. Perhaps one day I can claim that I have finished the proper one, then again I may not. This piece may end but I doubt it will ever be finished.
Freedom is unfinished business, or so it said on the back of a tee-shirt I saw some time ago somewhere in North Carolina. It was being worn by a gray-bearded man on a motorcycle sitting at a stop light. As he rode away I saw a POW/MIA patch sewn on the leather saddlebags’ and the back of his vest. I knew what I needed to say, but could not as the light changed and he sped away. I wished then that I could have stuck out my hand, taken his, thanked him and welcomed him home.
There is but one official birthplace for the holiday and yet do we really care that where or how it was begun? We know that mothers, wives, daughters, fathers and sons have been placing flowers on the graves of their fallen soldiers long before this day began. I offer this for those that come after that we all remember those that came before and paid the price for our unfinished business.
As I sit amongst the headstones I look down the rows and I see the flags and flowers. It seems to me that this time of year in a field of grass and stones those flags and flowers are always bright and new. With spring nearly over and summer around the corner the grass is as green as it will be and the flowers that grow wild are in full bloom. The flags marked those that paid with their life and those that passed after them by accident or by design. I close my eyes and I almost see them, standing by their headstones. Men and women dressing in their best dress uniforms; they seem to be waiting. It is then, that I remember that tomorrow is the day we honor them. I can almost hear the footsteps far in the distance of others walking in cadence step. They are coming down from wherever they are to stand at attention and wait. Some were shaking hands with old friends or giving hugs and then reaching out and welcoming the new comers. They are all members of same group of those that served and paid some with their lives some with a part their lives. They are all together in this place of grass and stone all one no matter what they may have paid they are part of the group and we honor them as one. Those new to the group stand-off to the side a bit weary of what to expect. Those that have been there take each one and help them, letting them see and letting them know that they too are honored and part of the group. They are standing around talking, although I cannot hear what they are saying, I can tell they are all talking of their lives and how they died. I am startled by a noise and they disappeared as my eyes opened. I watched as more flags are placed, grass is mowed, headstones are straightened and dusted off, and I am reminded once again that tomorrow is Memorial Day. I close my eyes again to try to see, but they are gone from me. So I rise and leave them they’re preparations. Tomorrow is another day and for now they can rest.
As I leave the field of grass and stones I walk past a freshly dug grave and I look down into the empty hole and pray that those gathered are not gaining another soul. As I look back and see the marker for the headstone I see the little flag waving in the gentle breeze I know somewhere close by a family grieves. I dare not look at the name for I need not know. All I need to know is that another brave soul comes to rest, among the field of grass and stone. His name like many of the millions of others that have fought for their country will be forgotten, but his deed will not. That night as I lay my head down I close my eyes and I pray for those that have given me what I have, the freedom that I hold so dear. I pray for those that served and paid in full for this unfinished business called freedom.
As I woke on Memorial Day, I hurried to be part of the festivities beginning with the parade down Main Street that would end at the cemetery where many brave men and women have found their final resting spot. The speeches would come next, under the old Oak tree. The politicians will do their best as the gathered crowd of all ages stand among the markers and listen as tributes were paid to those that rest there. After that there will be a barbecue at the park were families will all gather to eat and play while remembering those that the day is to honor and that paid. Later as the night closes in around us we will sit in awe of the fireworks that would signal the end of the day for those that paid.
The parade was long this year but still the high school bands would march on leading us into the field of grass and stone. I took my place as I often do out-of-the-way and in the back, I paid little attention to those that spoke or the words they used. My eyes rest squarely on the bugler and the seven men and women standing with rifles at the ready and waiting their cue. Standing in formation, behind the politicians and those at the ready, as straight as they could in their best dress uniforms, were those I had seen just yesterday in my mind. As the politicians ended their lengthy refrains, the bugler put his instrument to his lips and let flow the taps. Behind him the group of men and women snapped off a solid salute and it seemed to me that they stood even straighter. Tears began to flow of the men, women and children that came to honor those that lie in the field of grass and stone. Heads bowed as the notes began and the solemn sound seemed to hold everything perfectly still. As the notes of the bugler echoed down the valley and out into the distance, the seven raised their rifles to the air each firing three times to the order. As the seven lowered their rifles the men and women behind them lowered their hands. Each smiled as they recognized their family members that came to greet them there in the field of grass and stone. Each pointing out to the others how much one of the children looked like them. For the oldest among them it was harder to find any family now it had been so long that they had been there in that soulful place, now it was the newest among them that showed them that they were remember and honored by their family. The young children seemed to stare into space as they looked close at the figure that seemed only they and I could see. Some little babies cried as others laughed as if for no reason, but I knew and I saw it all. As the families slowly left the field of grass and stone and headed for the town park tears flowed down the faces of many. The smiles that were on the brave men and women in their best dressed began to fade.
I watched as they disbursed before turning away as if I would disturb them any more than perhaps I had already. I heard them walk away in cadence step some toward the park others off to their resting place. As I turned I watched as one little boy holding his mother’s hand was looking back at the field of grass and stone. He began to wave and in the distance I saw what he was waving at. A young man came running down through the field wearing his best dress and stood next to the freshly filled grave. Getting down on one knee he blew the boy a kiss and waved back. The little boy smiled and then began to cry. Those in their best dress that had yet to leave, came to the man by the fresh grave, threw their arms around him and welcomed him as one of the group. While he was late for the ceremony, he was never too late to be honored and accepted into the group. He is now a part of those that have paid for something greater than you and I greater even than him.
As the tee-shirt said “Freedom is Unfinished Business” and will always be paid for in full by lives of the men and women that protect and fight for it. Over the years many have stepped forward to fight for this country and a cause bigger than they are and bigger still than the group of those that paid. Yet, still they come forward. They will always come because freedom is also not cheap. It is the most expensive commodity in the world and I know now that in a lifetime of living I cannot repay them. I can only thank them.
So to you my friends and family and family of friends on this Memorial Day visit the fields of grass and stone. Look for the flags of those men and women that have paid in full for our freedom. Offer up a salute in their honor and thank them as best you can. Think of them as you go about your day and remember that for them you would not be free. I am not worthy to truly repay them so I can only try to honor them as best I can. I can live my life embracing the freedom that was given to me and paid for by my ancestors even though I did not and could not follow in their foot prints. I can pass on to those that come after me this freedom and this country, I can tell the stories of those that paid in full. We as trustees of the freedom must honor those by passing on the stories and by ensuring that we elect official’s that will not forget that freedom is not free and that it truly is unfinished business. It is up to us; those that have inherited the freedom of this country to see to it that it stays free, to see that it remains as proud and strong as we received it. How you spend your day is up to you of course, but as you grill up your burgers and dogs remember to fill your glass with your beverage of choice and offer up a toast to those that lie in the fields of grass and stone across this the greatest Country on Gods little blue planet. For this day is about those that have paid in full for the unfinished business of this country.