What Really Matters

Sometimes life presents you with an experience that is so humbling, so moving, that you can’t put it into words. But I’m going to try. This morning, I awoke early without wanting to. While I attempting in vain to go back to sleep, I thought that I should post a picture today that symbolizes Memorial Day. You know, pictures of flags and memorials and all the great symbols of what makes this a great country. Symbols of the countless who paid the ultimate price in the service of our country. But I quickly realized that I had two problems. First, all of pictures like that are on my computer at home and I couldn’t get to them. Second, quite frankly, most of my pictures like that just don’t capture the spirit of Memorial Day.
Then an idea hit me. I need to go out and create an image here in Colfax (the amazing community in southeast Washington where I’m staying). Several days ago, I noticed that the local cemetery had placed rows of American flags around the edge of the cemetery and I thought that would make an easy shot to post for Memorial Day. So, I was out the door in two minutes and I headed for the Colfax Cemetery. I had no idea what was about to happen.
I arrived at the cemetery at about 6:15 am. There was one other car. I immediately noticed a solitary figure silhouetted along the drive into the cemetery. There were large flags spaced out about every 15 or 20 feet along both sides of the entry and around the cemetery. As I slowly drove up the lane, I noticed that the figure was dressed in formal military dress. I was never a member of the service, so I don’t know which branch this gentleman represented. After a minute or two, I could tell that he was marching in front of the flags and saluting each one. It turns out that each flag was placed with the name of a veteran from the Colfax community who had passed away. He was marching around the entire cemetery, all 274 flags, and individually saluting each name and each flag. There was no one else but him and his fellow veterans. I forgot about photography and thought about what a hero this guy is. Early on a Memorial Day, he woke up at sunrise, dressed in his finest military dress, drove to the cemetery and slowed marched around by himself with no fanfare to pay his respects. Wow. I immediately had a new definition of the word hero. I couldn’t hold back my tears, and still can’t as I write this. I didn’t want to bother or interrupt him, but I slowly realized that I had to photograph him. I had to give his story a voice in an image. The attached image is the result.
I wanted to meet this gentleman and pay my respects to him. I decided to make a quick drive to town, buy a cup of coffee for him and bring it back. Based on the time I spent in the distant photographing him, I figured I had 15 minutes before he completed his mission. So I left, bought the coffee, and returned to find that it only took him 14 minutes to complete is task. Sadly, I missed him by no more than a minute! I drove around town looking for his car to no avail. I wish I knew who he was so I could print this image and give it to him. If you can help me find him, please let me know.
OK. Now enjoy your Memorial Day knowing what really matters: heroes both living and dead in places like the Colfax Cemetery.
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