Sunday, April 22, 2012

first draft

            The New Hope Baptist Church is a place that I often think about. I went to church there a few times as a child but the most memorable experience I had there is the bittersweet recollection of laying my Great-Grandfather to rest in the church cemetery. The church itself is isolated out in the hills on a very old winding road that runs next to the Missouri River. It was February 20th, 2010 and the air was a bit chilly but the sun still shone brightly on the small cemetery that solemn day. As I stood under the tree that my Grandfather would be laid next to, I looked out into the fields below and saw vast waves of green shimmering back and forth with the breeze. With every breath I could almost taste the crisp coolness in my mouth. At the time I had wondered how I was going to make it through the day.

            Normally a day like this wouldn’t seem so beautiful considering the circumstances, but God must have been incredibly happy to have such a strong soul back in Heaven with Him because he blessed my Grandfathers home-going with a gorgeous day. The birds sang loudly as everyone else stood in what seemed to be hours of silence except for the occasional stifled cough or sniffle. I could smell my Great-Grandmother’s perfume as she stood in front of us as still as a statue. Though she was trying her hardest to stay strong you could see the distraught look she carried in her eyes. I remember thinking to myself that the pain in her eyes must be what the fear of being alone forever looks like.

My stomach felt incredibly deep as my cousins carried the casket down to the grave. Flashes of memories, like images frozen in time, played through my mind at a thousand miles a minute. I wanted to smile and frown, laugh and cry, all at the same time. Although my emotions were as twisted up as a ball of yarn, one thing was clear in my mind, and that was the fact that I would never get to ear my Grandpa’s jokes again, or see his warm smile or hear his voice on Christmas Eve reading the story of the birth of Jesus out of The Bible. Although that thought absolutely crushed my spirit, the idea of my Grandpa being laid to rest next to our past family, slightly eased my mind.

That day marked the end of a long painful journey. It had been hard on the whole family for years, always worrying about his health problems and seeing him suffer through such pain. My attention had been on the Marines that were ceremoniously folding the American flag that had been resting on top of my Grandfather’s casket. It made my heart sink a bit into my chest when they handed the folded flag to my Grandmother. It seemed to be the only thing that she would have left to hold on to and the thought of my Grandma feeling sad really broke my heart.

My stomach dropped, like going over a hill too fast, when I heard the first of the gunshots saluting my Grandfather. The sound of each shot pierced through the air, like a needle through silk, and I knew instantly that I would never forget those sharp ringing seconds. Almost instantly, my ringing ears were soothed by the soft melody of “Taps” floating through the crisp air. The bugle sounded so distant but yet so perfect that it almost seemed as if the song was being played from the heavens and was sounding through the clouds angelically. Remembering how I sang “Taps” at the end of each day at Girl Scout camp only reminded me that this was the end and there was nothing that anyone could do to change it. A painful lump rose up into my throat and got stuck, making it hard to swallow.

 My eyes started to blur as I fought to hold back the tears that should have already been cried. A shiver went up and back down my spine as the finale note of “taps” rang out and echoed across the field. As I blinked, tears fell from both my eyes, at first warming my face, but then leaving a cold trail behind where they had been. I had lowered my head so that no one saw me cry. I had kept my eyes closed for so long. All I had wanted was to keep the tears from coming in front of everyone else. I felt a hand on my shoulder and took a deep breath of the cool air. When I finally opened my eyes, I looked up to see my Aunt beside me. Together we looked down at the rough ground where my Grandfather’s tombstone would soon rest. We didn’t talk. We didn’t even look at each other. I think she was just as scared of crying as I was.

She stood there with me until I started to shiver and by the time I turned around to walk up the hill, most of the family had already made their way to the top. I walked slowly, feeling every rock under my feet along the path. Strange, how I could feel life all around me after just laying one to rest. It just didn’t seem right or fair at the time. Only later would I realize how beautifully ironic it really was.

At the top of the hill I stopped and turned around and took a deep breath. I wanted to take it all in. I looked over that whole hillside slowly. I could see the tree line where the woods ended and the field began. The one tree in the cemetery stood tall and seemed to be proud to shade the resting souls underneath its long branches. The birds sang and danced in the sky to their own melodies as a gentle breeze rocked plant life back and forth simultaneously. I breathed in deeply one last time, smelling the fresh country air. As I turned around I smiled and let tears roll out of the corners of my eyes.
 I had never felt quite so empty yet so happy at the same time. It was like two completely opposite emotions intertwining in my heart and my body didn’t know which one to express. We pulled away and I had my head against the window looking out towards the cemetery. The image of that little church on the hill with its one tree towering towards the sky would forever be seared into my memory like a brand. Though this place carries many good and painful memories, it will

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