It’s a rare thing that unfolds, like the mystery of happening upon dozens of dragonflies in the bushes outside a favorite bookstore.
“Think of me whenever you see a dragonfly,” she said shortly before dying.
“Why the dragonfly?” I inquired, curious. There had been no special mention of dragonflies between us prior to then. No hilarity over their wickedly-tapered beings or shared wondering over their translucent nature.
“Because,” she answered, “they have to leave the familiar waters to get their wings.”
“Ahh,” I said, nodding in the knowing.
And so it is with a sacredness I pause to consider why the dragonflies hover here, over this bush, far from the river that cuts through this town, outside the bookstore where we once swapped stories of what we did last night and how there is so much yet left to cram into the rest of this day.
Holy moments arrive by other unexpected means, too.
Such as the bright and happy tone alerting me: “You’ve Got Mail’
I like mail, so long as it’s not another tedious chore list or a plea from a Nigerian to send more money, promptly. If I had money I’d send it to myself pronto. If you have some you are seeking to shed yourself of, feel free to pass it my way. If journalists had a clue about financial matters they never would have become journalists in the first place but, alas, we are dumb as dipsticks about such matters.
I did not recognize the Sender “Lonepilgrim” but I appreciated the sentiment. They are one in the same, aren’t they? The lone pilgrim?
I scanned the Subject matter: “Christmas @ AJ National Cemetery.”
Ahha, I reasoned, a note from another veteran. They appear randomly like the lost Easter Egg discovered in July. There are those I hear from routinely. Veterans that I now refer to as friends. They have become part of that group of people that we collectively refer to within the family as “our loved ones.”
There was a time, shortly after my memoir was published, when my Inbox would be flooded with notes from veterans whose names I did not yet know. Sometimes I would get as many as 300 of them in an hour, after a national radio or television appearance.
My agent had warned me: “You must change your email address, your phone number. Make it all private.”
“Why would I do that?”
“Because you will be deluged,” she said.
“I hope so. Why would I write a book intended to put an end to the silence inflicted upon our veterans, upon war widows and upon children and then make myself unavailable, unreachable?” I replied. “That makes no sense to me.”
So google me. You’ll see. The phone number. The email addy. It’s all there. I’m not hard to find. Same phone number I’ve had since I first had a cell phone back in my reporting days. Sometimes folks in the town will call it and give me tips on a breaking news story yet. I love that.
Even on the days when the emails came in by the hundreds, I stayed awake bleary-eyed, answering every single one myself. It’s crazy but I’m crazy that way.
And blessed. Always, always blessed. As I was when I opened the note from Lonepilgrim. This is as I discovered it:
A few years ago I started researching about those from this area that were KIA in Vietnam. When I read about SSG David Spears from Rogersville and about the book, I told my wife I wanted that book for Christmas. Three days later I closed the back cover and knew I had some place to go. I drove the ten or so miles to AJ National Cemetery, the attendant looked at me as if I was crazy but after I explained everything he was very helpful in assisting me. I told him about the book and he became very interested and began to ask several questions. Within a few minutes I was standing beside your father’s snow=covered grave. With highest respect I straightened the Christmas Wreath that lay against his headstone and then stood in silence thinking of how you had spoken of your father. I retired from active duty in the army a few years ago so I know of the great sacrifice so many have made. I made a lot of good friends and lost a few while in the army, I am very proud to have served. Thank you for the book, very well written and brought back a lot of memories. May God bless you as you journey through life.
Are you bleary-eyed now as well? I’m sure Lonepilgrim never expected that I would write back but I did. Then he sent me another note:
Thank you so much for responding to my e-mail and I apologize if I overstepped my bounds or upset you. I’m sorry for not introducing myself, my name is Sam and I live in TN. I read about the book on a web site I have about the wall. Thank you for not forgetting your father and the honor you have brought to him. Towards the end of the book you told how your mother stated she had been a part of the army so long that now she didn’t know how to be a civilian. When I read those words I relived my feelings after I retired. It was so hard to adjust to the civilian world, so much disrespect, self-discipline was unheard of. One of the toughest tasks I faced as a soldier in peace time was burial detail. It was so hard to present the flag to the NOK and maintain your military bearing while the arms of strangers embraced you and cried without control. Five days after returning home I attended to the funeral of a cousin and friend. As I stood in the cemetery I noticed the Honor Guard, a few old soldiers from the local VFW doing their best. When Taps was sounded it was played from a small tape recorder. I hung my head in shame, so disrespectful, this nation couldn’t provide a bugler after the way he had served this country, he was a Vietnam vet. Less than a month later an uncle was killed in an auto accident, he was a Korean War vet. I attended his funeral and saw a repeat of the previous funeral. I was moved to such shame that when I got home I began digging through boxes till I found my bugle from when I was a youth. After several days of practice, I returned to the graves, stood at attention and the sound of Taps echoed thru the hillsides. I play at eleven cemeteries on Memorial Day, my honor and my way of saying thank you, I have not forgotten. I know how things are after the flag is folded.
Veterans always are so careful and polite like that, worrying that their intrusion into my life will upset me, will cause me to remember that which I, like them, can never forget.
No. No. No, I assure each and every one. I welcome your stories. Please, tell me more. And when they do, it’s magical, like happening upon dragonflies in a bush.
Several men have traveled from their homes to my father’s graveside at Andrew Johnson National Cemetery in Greeneville, Tennessee. Men who did not know my father personally but feel a kinship with him nonetheless, and with me, I think. I imagine them there, on that hillside, kneeling by Dad’s stone, praying for all they lost and all they didn’t lose. The way I do whenever I’m there.
It didn’t occur to me when I was writing our family’s story that men would make pilgrimages to pay their respects to a fallen soldier a nation had not only forgotten but very purposefully ignored.
This is why I love these men so. They dare to walk alongside me as we marvel over dragonflies in the bush and other such holy matters