Today is Veterans Day and while as a child I knew it as a day off from school, as an adult, I have a better understanding of its true meaning. My father was an Air Force Veteran. He served in the Air Force during the Vietnam War. He worked on the electrical and mechanical systems of large cargo planes but he never saw action in the war. At his burial the Air Force Honor Guard performed their duties including the flag presentation and the playing of Taps in the distance. Were I able to cry at that time, I would have. I’m sure my father’s spirit appreciated the honor. I appreciate everything he and everyone else in the armed services has done and continues to do for this country.
When I’ve visited my father’s grave, I’ve taken the time to walk around and read nearby grave markers. Every cemetery has a multiple stories to tell of the people laid to rest there. While their physical voices are silent, their spirits are strong and the words written on headstones tell only a small portion of their lives. I like to think that even though I’m not related to them, they appreciate me taking the time to learn a little bit about them.
On my first official, planned visit to Amesbury, MA I stayed at the Fairfield Inn because I wanted to be close to the center of town. It was late June but the weather felt more like late September as it was raining and cool when I arrived. After I settled my belongings in my room, I wanted to stretch my legs after 7 hours of driving. I changed into warmer jeans and boots, grabbed my jacket and umbrella and started walking down Clark’s Road toward the Merrimack River.
I hadn’t walked very far when I came upon a cemetery. It was still raining and the ground was muddy but I walked a short distance into the cemetery and looked around me. Even on such a dreary day there was a quiet beauty present. The 4th of July was less than a week away so the graves of veterans were marked with small American flags to honor their service and show respect. When it began to rain harder I decided to head back to the hotel.
By the end of that visit to Amesbury and surrounding areas, the weather had transformed into full summer with bright sunlight, high temperatures and humidity. I went to the car show in Amesbury the Sunday morning of my departure and found that a fun experience. On my way out of town I drove by a cemetery I’d seen a few times before on my travels. This time I decided to turn back around and drive in.
I parked my car and started walking around. I didn’t realize how big the cemetery was until I crested the hill and saw it stretching beyond. I walked all over that cemetery reading headstones and watching the birds land atop the markers and in the trees. There were numerous American flags set into the green grass, gently stirring in the light breeze. The only sounds so far back in the cemetery were the songs of the birds and the rustling of the leaves. I was filled with deep feelings of remembrance and respect. I was the only living person there but I was in the presence of countless strong spirits.
I don’t really know how long I was walking around that cemetery but I felt no urgency to leave. I felt a need to be among those stories, those memories, those short verses carved in stone that hinted at the lives of souls now at rest. Everywhere you travel there is a story, if only you take the time to stop, listen and see.