Three years ago on Memorial Day I was visiting the community of Colfax in southeastern Washington, which is the heart of an agricultural area known as the Palouse. If you’ve been to the Palouse or seen pictures from there, you’re familiar with the miles and miles of undulating hills that define this unique region. I don’t understand the geologic forces responsible for the Palouse topography, but the end result is a stunning palette of color, shapes, contours, and textures. To my eye, these verdant hills are similar in appearance to the sand dunes I’ve seen in Death Valley and Namibia.
On that Memorial Day, I awoke early and decided to post an image in commemoration of the fallen veterans who paid the ultimate price in service to our country. The only problem was I didn’t have any such images in my portfolio. Undaunted, I decided to create one. So I headed to the Colfax cemetery where I had earlier seen dozens and dozens of American flags placed in honor of Memorial Day. Surely I could find a picture there, I remember thinking to myself. As luck would have it, the visit exceeded my wildest expectations and I soon experienced a humbling and moving moment.
Upon my arrival at the cemetery, I saw a lone soldier in formal military dress. I quickly noticed he was marching in front of the flags and saluting each one. It turns out that each flag had the name of a fallen veteran from the Colfax community. The lone soldier was marching around the entire cemetery, all 274 flags, and individually saluting each name and each flag. There was no one there but him and the fallen veterans. I have never witnessed such an act. There was no fanfare or recognition. No one was watching. No one was there to pat him on the back. It was a simple and profound act of selflessness by a lone soldier in service to his fallen brothers and sisters. It was an emotional moment for me then and it remains so to this day. I did not interrupt the lone soldier’s journey around the cemetery, but we later met through the miracle of social media.
Looking back on that Memorial Day, I received a valuable lesson in selflessness and the service of others, even when no one is watching and even when there is no one there to pat me on the back. The lone soldier reminded me the importance of doing the right thing simply because it is the right thing. These lessons are so easy for me to forget. I constantly need to be reminded of them: selflessness in the service to others and do the right thing even when no one is watching.
That was a memorable day for me and I hope the story makes today a memorable one for you too. So much is different on this Memorial Day. Today, I’m writing from my home. I’ve left this house only a limited number of times since mid-March. I’ve cancelled many plans and adapted to a world in the grasp of a pandemic. I’m privileged to be able to work from home, but I’ve struggled to deal with all the changes, information, and opinions about COVID-19. Overall, I’m doing really well. When I feel down or depressed about my situation, I think back to my lessons from the lone soldier on that Memorial Day in the Palouse and I keep going knowing that my sacrifices are trivial compared to those of others.
I hope you’re well too!
Happy Memorial Day!