For as long back as I can remember, Memorial Weekend was a time to travel to the cemetery, plant the annual flowers on the graves of our departed, and reflect upon their memory. The cemetery where my grandparents rest, is cut into a sloping hillside. As a child I remember riding with my father to the entrance of the cemetery. An iron gate guarded the entrance. It was always freshly painted, its hinges well oiled. The road to the grave site was lined with majestic maples. The stones and statues stood tall and picturesque on the hillside. The cemetery was always full of life, people planting flowers, grooming shrubs and paying their respects.
Today, there is a new cemetery, the field of death as I prefer to call it. It too, has a grand, well-kept gate protecting the entrance, but there the similarity ends. Once within, a vast ever-growing field of flatness is presented to you. Gone are the trees, and shrubs of old. In many sections, only flat headstones are allowed. A barren wasteland of sorts. Pounded by the sun, the grass mowed too short, is brown, and fights to live. This is the memory of today. The field today, is full of the living, they come to pay their respects. They set pots of flowers on the tombstones, knowing they must be removed in a week, so the dying grass can easier, be kept at bay. Despair fills my heart when I enter this field of death, not because of the memories of those departed, but the emptiness the field contains. As I place my pots of flowers on the various graves and say a prayer, I often sigh, knowing I too, one day will lie in this forsaken wasteland.
I still go to the cemetery of my grandparents and my forefathers. Their memory instilled deep within my soul. The once grand gate, is now broken and rotting, it sags on rusted hinges. The once majestic maples, are now diseased and dying. Along the hillside, the once proud headstones are leaning or fallen over. Some have layed forgotten on the ground for many years. The cemetery, once full of life and memories, is almost empty. The memories of the living have passed with time, as did they. Memories passed to the youth, seem to have been forgotten. Only the memories of today, and the field of death remain in their minds. It too will one day be forgotten.
Yet sitting here in the cemetery of my youth, I find peace and solitude. I remember those who have passed before me, and their accomplishments and sacrifices. Today, while sitting on that hillside I couldn’t help but remember a poem of my youth. I think it is an appropriate way to honor their memory. Here is the poem:
IN FLANDERS FIELDS
By Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae 1915
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place: and in the sky
The larks still bravely singing fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the dead: Short days ago,
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved: and now we lie
In Flanders fields!
Take up our quarrel with the foe
To you, from failing hands, we throw
The torch: be yours to hold it high
If ye break faith with us who die,
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields