To Give Life’s Best

For Memorial Day 2014, as the sky cannot stop raining tears for the losses suffered by a few to secure a future for many:

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In great deeds, something abides.
On great fields, something stays.
Forms change and pass;
bodies disappear;
but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls.
And reverent men and women from afar,
and generations that know us not and that we know not of,
heart-drawn to see where and by whom great things were suffered and done for them,
shall come to this deathless field,
to ponder and dream;
and lo! the shadow of a mighty presence shall wrap them in its bosom,
and the power of the vision pass into their souls.
This is the great reward of service.
To live, far out and on, in the life of others;
this is the mystery of the Christ,

–to give life’s best for such high sake
that it shall be found again unto life eternal.

~Major-General Joshua Chamberlain at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania 1889

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For a Day at the Cemeteries

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I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering;
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was a bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.
~Mary Oliver from “When Death Comes”

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Slumber Interrupted

herman

my great great grandfather

an updated poem from Memorial Day 2010

Blazing sun bakes a lichen crust
atop a stone so feverish
it is hearth without fire,
reaching down deep
into soil holding a box
that knows no warmth.

Autumn windstorms rage,
lightning crack and thunder clap,
trembling the filled-hole grounds
as dying leaves spin and swirl
through arced cascade among tidy rows
till settled and spent.

Then crisp hoarfrost clings
in glittering crystalline coverlet
gracefully fallen from graying sky,
soft cotton batting fluffs
to pillow gentle slumber
uninterrupted.

When vernal raindrops quench
the thirst of dry bones
suspended between
welkin expanse
and earth’s darkest pit,

these silent stones will shout out~

still no more, reticent no longer,
waking to resonant reveille,
ready to blossom forth
in the fullness of time
and everlasting promise.

anna

my great grandmother

A Presence of Absence

photo by Gary Jarvis of Dutch Reformed Cemetery

“The sunlight now lay over the valley perfectly still. I went over to the graveyard beside the church and found them under the old cedars… I am finding it a little hard to say that I felt them resting there, but I did… I saw that, for me, this country would always be populated with presences and absences, presences of absences, the living and the dead. The world as it is would always be a reminder of the world that was, and of the world that is to come.”
Wendell Berry in Jayber Crow

Today, as always over the last weekend of May, we have a family reunion where most turn up missing.  A handful of the living come together for lunch and then a slew of the no-longer-living, some of whom have been caught napping for a century or more, are no-shows.

It is always on this day of cemetery visiting that I feel keenly the presence of their absence: the great greats I never knew, a great aunt who kept so many secrets, an alcoholic grandfather I barely remember, my grandmother whose inherent messiness I inherited, my parents who separated for ten years late in life, yet reunited long enough for their ashes to rest together for eternity.

It is good, as one of the still-for-now living, to approach these plots of grass with a wary weariness of the aging.  But for the grace of God, there will I be sooner than I wish to be.  There, thanks to the grace of God, will I one day be an absent presence for my children and hoped-for grandchildren to ponder.

The world as it is remembers the world that was.  The world to come calls us home in its time, where we all will be present and accounted for — our reunion celebration.

All in good time.

briarcroft:

It is now my fifty eighth Memorial Day–what I wrote two years ago still is true: I see this as a day for weeping, so the rain coming from the sky is fitting.

Originally posted on Hankerings:

On my fifty sixth Memorial Day, I need to be reminded not to forget the sacrifices made by my fellow countrymen.  This is not a vacation day.  This is a day meant for the hard work of painful remembrance.  This is a day to slog through the mud of the battlefields, the searing heat of the deserts, the dripping humidity of the jungles, the icy snowbanks of wintertime battle fronts.

I do not want to forget what it means to get up each morning clothed in liberty, and fall asleep each night without fear.  We are meant to cry this day, to weep over the loss of life over the generations, the losses in battles that continue to this day.

The cost of staying free must not bankrupt our souls even as it taxes our resources.   Once we forget, if even one of us forgets, then the battle comes…

View original 45 more words

Do You Remember?

“Do you remember the Shire, Mr. Frodo? It’ll be spring soon. And the orchards will be in blossom. And the birds will be nesting in the hazel thicket. And they’ll be sowing the summer barley in the lower fields… and eating the first of the strawberries with cream. Do you remember the taste of strawberries?”
―  J.R.R. Tolkien

In our despairing moments, we recollect and hold on to memories most precious to us, recalling what makes each moment, indeed life itself,  special and worthwhile.  It can be something so seemingly simple that becomes the most cherished and retrievable–the aroma of cinnamon in a warm kitchen, the splash of colors in a carefully tended garden spot, the cooing of mourning doves as light begins to dawn, the velvety soft of a newborn foal’s fur, the embrace of welcoming arms.

Today, as our family once again heads to two cemeteries to honor our dead, it is those simple things we will recall and treasure, pass on in stories, and never leave buried in the ground.  The legacy of these memories lives and thrives in the next and then the next generation, to be told and retold, not to rest, eventually to be forgotten, under a marker.

Do you remember the Shire, Mr. Frodo?  Do you remember?

Slumber Undisturbed

Blazing sun bakes a lichen crust
atop a stone so feverish to touch
it becomes hearth without fire
reaching hot fingers deep
into soil supporting a box
that knows no warmth.

When windstorms rage
lightning crack and thunder clap
trembles anew the hole filled ground
as dying leaves spin and swirl
through arcing cascade into
settled and spent.

Till crisp hoarfrost clings
in glittering crystalline coverlet
from gray sky that throws down
soft cotton batting gently
fluffed to protect a slumber
undisturbed and silent.

Soon vernal raindrops bring
promise of quenched thirst
for dry bones lying suspended
between the welkin sky
and earth’s deep pit
to blossom finally in fullness.