For many years I’ve made it a private discipline to go alone to Lakewood Cemetery in the mid-morning, to just sit there with a fascinating variety of people – marked particularly by white-haired older men, as a way of celebrating Memorial Day.
The Police Band was there, and usually Robert Robinson, the gifted tenor, and his group. A South Minneapolis pastor by tradition gave a prayer for peace, and a military person spoke.
It was hosted by the president of the cemetery, himself. I always found it a moving experience. I felt I was sitting there “among the patriots.” The people who wanted to show up for that because they loved America. Because they wanted to hear America’s songs, and simply be among America’s people. Perhaps they would have a family picnic later. But at least, on this day they would honor the fallen, the young and the brave who went off to foreign fields to stand in the ways of the mortars and bombs, the tanks and the troops of those countries that stood for very different goals in the world and who were taking the lives – in prison camps and gas chambers of those who were their opponents.
Those who fought America’s wars were not war-mongers or oppressors. Some of them were even pacifists. But they somehow believed America had created a land that was free and that wanted to be just and fair, and they would go to far-off fields and lay down their lives, if necessary, to help right prevail in the world.
All tricky business of course. In taking risks that might take everything they had. It seemed a small thing to sit among those who were remembering and giving honor to fellow countrymen who paid such a price.
Over the years I found others, friends of mine, parishioners, people I’d married, or been privileged to be their friend long ago.
We would meet by chance after the “exercises” were over, and greet each other and remember our own relationship. They were often quite different folks. But we were glad to find each other, and renew the ties of friendship. They felt like little reunions to me as we were slowly walking along, thinking our long thoughts.
I love tradition. I love remembering. I love the sense of being, on a red, white, and blue day, once a year, part of a group of people who cared. Just quietly, and alone.
I would even wander off, on my way out of the cemetery, to find the graves of people I’d buried there, long ago, in my pastoral life. One was the grave whose headstone read “The Little Mississippi Girl.” A fellow Rotarian who was a funeral director had asked me if I would do the service for a little baby girl who had been found along the banks of the Mississippi River – left there, perhaps by a distraught young mother who didn’t know what to do with this child who had been born to her. There was no family. But a service was held and the funeral home was packed. We even gave the child that name as we did the service. It is on her headstone to this day.
All part of that place of memory. That place to remember. That place of many stories. That place I will remember.
Arthur A Rouner, Jr -
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