Thursday, August 18, 2011

Veterans Memorial Park

I was at Utah Veterans Memorial Park earlier this week to honor a veteran who recently died and to serve those who have loved him. It was a significant time; I felt privileged to be there. There is much I could write, but not here. The story of this man and his loved ones is not mine to tell.

The grounds, though -- that is something different. I arrived early to prepare myself personally for the experience before addressing the final details with others, and spent a few minutes afterwards, too. It was important time, and I was grateful for that physical space.

The chapel's design draws the eye upward, as if to heaven. It stands in contrast to the grounds, as if quietly yet boldly proclaiming its presence rather than blending in. Death matters, and how we acknowledge it matters. This chapel creates space for that truth.

There is space outside the chapel to stand, sit, wait, talk. It is not very "practical," as it offers very little protection from the elements. But I see great symbolism in this overhead structure, as if quietly reminding me of how little separates me from this life and the next. And it is a peaceful spot.

Flowers are similarly "impractical" because they serve no concrete purpose, and then they die. At the same time, that is why they are important. They represent the fragility and beauty of life, the invisible fragrance-like influence surrounding each person, the hope and courage in continuing to move forward after loss. Flowers can communicate love and support like the gentle presence of a friend.

The courtyard outside the chapel entrance has a statue at its center which silently greets visitors. The salute portrays constant respect. Many are buried here long after their time in the military has ended, but their service is not forgotten. Men and women of the military, both past and present, need to know the gratitude of the nation for which they sacrifice. As a nation, we sometimes need those reminders, too.

There is a huge flag on the grounds, and smaller ones at some of the sites. It symbolizes the ideals which unite us as a country, not the policies which divide us. The flags suggest character and sacrifice, and their presence shows these in memory of men and women buried here.

Many people work here, caring for details of funerals, burials, and facility care. For them, I suppose the day-to-day functions may become mundane. But how they do their jobs is important to those whose loved ones are buried here, those for whom at least one gravesite holds special significance.

Like much in the military, the grave markers are pretty uniform. As I walked, I read the inscriptions. Most simply state name, service, and dates, but each represents one individual, one life.

And each life changes the world.

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