While scanning the military section of a large Tyler, Texas cemetery last week, I spotted you. Two small American flags, side-by-side, obviously once placed at the same time on two adjoining graves. How do I know? Well, quite frankly, you both looked alike … but not at all like the other American flags surrounding the many graves in your vicinity. You were no longer red, white, and blue but rather red, dirty-brown, and blue — and you were tattered. Very tattered; pieces of your elegant garment long ago blown away by the winds of time.
At first I was offended to see you standing there waving like you were important. In reality, I was almost embarrassed for you. Judgmental Me shook her head and turned away to admire the three large American flags flying proudly from their flag poles in the center of the cemetery … surrounded by their scores of recently-placed smaller counterparts. It was a truly beautiful spectacle!
But something about the two of you drew me back … and I looked more closely. The graves surrounding yours displayed Christmas poinsettias … and faded Fall mums … and wreaths from our recent Mother’s Day celebration. I began to wonder about the people who placed them there; some obviously more regular visitors than others. Quite honestly, my own belief is that the loved ones who have gone before me are not contained in their graves; in fact, I look forward to spending eternity with them. For that reason, I don’t feel compelled to visit family graves or “update” flowers very often. But I realize that, for various reasons, some people do, and I’m glad they find comfort in that.
Obviously, one day long ago, someone thought it important to proudly place the two of you on their loved ones’ graves. I wonder whose resting places you’ve been proclaiming … As best I could tell, I suspect one of the graves belonged to a military veteran and the other to his wife. How old was he when he joined the military? What was his last rank — and in which branch did he serve? Was he on call during wartime … or was our country blessed with peace? Did he have children? If so, did he tell them stories of his military service — or keep them to himself as do so many veterans? Did his wife also stand beside him in life, understanding his sometimes-distant silences? Could a child have been the one to place the two of you on his parents’ graves? That was a long time ago … Do you even remember the day you began to stand at attention?
I’ve been back home now in another state for several days, but the two of you continue to haunt me. Oh, how I regret not having a picture of you … Somehow rather than be embarrassed for you, I’ve come to see you as advocates for all veterans and their families. Sure, I wish your colors were vibrant and that your tatters didn’t exist. But somehow, waving as proudly as possible in your challenged condition, you’ve caused me to think more deeply this Memorial Day. You’ve reminded me that one day a year is hardly enough recognition of the sacrifices made by men and women and their families, although it’s a start. The rest of the year it depends on individual people — like me — to be aware and appreciative. Otherwise, our one day of proud flag-waving turns into 364 days of neglect as our flags become dirty and torn by the realities of life … until we forget them altogether. Until next Memorial Day when we’ll pull them out … then toss them aside to be replaced by a brand spanking new one we’ll carry to the parade. And if we’re not careful, the cycle will continue.
Today, I am grateful to you two tattered flags for the reminder that the freedoms I have didn’t come easily but rather were hard-earned by more men and women than I can properly appreciate in one day. Many of them have been long forgotten. I suspect you know that better than I …
In truth, to bless our world.
Happy Memorial Day