There are many graves of fallen soldiers. What makes this one special is that I knew him.
I knew him as a child. I knew him as a teammate and a competitor. There were days I knew him as a pain in the butt. But I grew to know him as a friend. As a fellow believer. I knew his good heart and genuine spirit. I knew him as a classmate. I did not know him as a soldier.
He was one of those people I lost touch with after graduation. I guess I expected us to fall back into each other's lives at some point, as that's what always happened before. We had too many mutual friends and connections to avoid it. But he was killed by insurgents in Iraq before that had a chance to happen.
I regret we didn't stay closer. I wish the last memory I have of him...wasn't the last memory I have of him. But as last memories go, this one is sort of fitting. It is the end of the year. He is wearing jeans and a white tshirt, standing by an open locker, grinning. He is waving goodbye...have a good summer....see you around. In my mind, it is like this that he disappears into the mist.
I wasn't sure what to expect. I didn't know what I would feel being back there. I wasn't even sure I could find it again. Hadn't been back there since the funeral.
After all, this is the harsh reality of war, isn't it? A young man....simply gone from the world.
The greatest fear for anyone who loves a soldier.
The grave is located in the veterans portion of the cemetery. It is on the top of a hill, rather scenic as spots go. It overlooks the baby cemetery, as if these warriors stand sentry for the innocents, even in death.
It was windy, gloomy, bitterly cold day. Maybe because of that, my first thought was that it seemed lonely.
Compared to the graves around it, Will's still seems new. The grass hasn't filled in all the way yet. The ground is sunken a little bit, as if the ground is still accepting the fact that he now fills it.
There is a bench near it, where one could sit and reflect, on less chilly days. There was as Christmas tree and a wreath, all decorated immaculately. The small offerings left under it were testament to others who had made this holiday pilgrammage to see a friend.
I found that while I was assailed by memories, moved by them even, I wasn't emotional. I knew Will as gone, I saw the body at the funeral, saw them lower him into the ground. This was just where his body rests.
I guess that is what surprised me the most. What I felt was emptiness. It reminded me that according to our faith, the flesh is all that remains. The spirit has gone on to be with our Father. That provides comfort. But the emptiness remains.
What I kept returning to, standing there in the cold, staring at the grave of a fallen friend, were the words of a poem by Mary Elizabeth Frye.
Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep
Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there; I do not sleep.
a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow,
I am the sun
on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circling
I am the soft starlight at night.
Do not stand at my grave and
I am not there; I did not die.