"If tears can build a stairway and memories a lane, I'd walk right up to heaven and bring you home again." – Author unknown
It's Memorial Day 2012 and hordes are heading to cemeteries. They form an unlikely parade with back seats and trunks overflowing with flowers and flag-laden polyurethane wreaths destined to be laid on graves everywhere.
Today, sentries of sojourners, paying homage to fallen heroes, kneel to whisper prayers of regards and regrets.
Originally called Decoration Day, Memorial Day was instituted in 1868 by U.S. General John A. Logan to adorn graves of Civil War veterans. It eventually became a day to remember those lost in war and otherwise.
Today is when ordinary reverences the extraordinary – the valor, bravery, uncommon courage that marched to wars on foreign soils and died for the red, white and blue.
As I travel along Highway 12 in Nebraska, between Verdigris and Burt, another scene plays itself out….
I don't believe it's by accident that I am silently witnessing this glimpse of another's life. A middle-aged woman who had parked her car is navigating an embankment on the side of the road. While stripes of sunlight warm her, she carries a bouquet of flowers in one hand and with the other claws loose muddy clumps of dirt. Attempting to hang on, her footing gives way and she slips.
Not frayed but boldly undeterred from paying tribute, she springs back with both legs, which are now stretched in opposite directions. Like a sprinter before the gun sounds at the start of a race, she aims once again for the weathered make-shift cross planted several arms-lengths above her. Her body language imbues the notion that nothing will prevent her from placing those flowers.
I believe I am meant to see her determination, her willingness to get dirty, her struggle and her loss.
Someone had died along Highway 12 at the very place the woman is locating with her feet, hands and heart. More accurately, someone was killed, suddenly, unexpectedly there. And, not just anyone, but a loved one – a child, a sibling, a lover or a friend – tragically drew his or her last breath. On that day, larcenous death thwarted dreams and halted life.
With the exception of an old fashioned sense of honor, Memorial Day rituals like this one are dissimilar to the standard bearer of graveside vigils. These are quietly carried out by millions on provincial stretches of highways across America.
Was I meant to witness her struggle? Hear her primal scream only audible by my heart?
After our paths crossed, I imagine she'll return home, dirt under her nails, mud smeared palms – a metaphor for her life since the hour, the day when this scrappy spot alongside Highway 12 became memorialized. I wonder.
Taps won't play. Bugles won't sound. No waves of flags or formal rituals here. Yet, the bereaved parade along highways, chronicling their lost. They still pray and weep and shout. They never forget.
And, in the wake of insatiable emptiness, they experience constant tinges of longing eternal.
2012 © Copyright Paula Damon.
A resident of Southeast South Dakota, Paula Bosco Damon is a national award-winning columnist. Her writing has won first-place in competitions of the National Federation of Press Women, South Dakota Press Women and Iowa Press Women. In the 2009, 2010 and 2011 South Dakota Press Women Communications Contests, her columns have earned eight first-place awards. To contact Paula, email boscodamon.paula@gmail, follow her blog at firstname.lastname@example.org and find her on FaceBook.