Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Shoes of Soldiers

I walk across the dry brittle grass burnt by the long hot summer and lack of rain; it crunches beneath my new black suede shoes. As I move my heels slip slightly into the parched soil. A North wind blows softly over the field and floats through the gathering crowd. The blue sky is littered with dark ominous looking clouds. Birds chirp with enthusiasm as if their world has not collapsed, like ours. The noonday sun splashes a rainbow of colors against the stark grayed headstones in the old part of the cemetery. My world has become shrouded in disbelief. I amble slowly toward the new section.

I stand alone in my sadness surrounded and almost suffocated by family and friends. Rampant thoughts swirl inside my pounding head. The heat warms my skin but does not remove the coldness inside my heart. A heart heavy and cold pulsates inside my chest. Anxiety, fear, sadness, anger and remorse surge uncontrollably within my veins. I feel lost within a crowd. I am a trespasser in a foreign land. I am diagonally parked on a parallel planet. I make room for absence. I trample a dandelion with my new suede shoes.

The fresh pile of dirt covered discreetly by fake green carpeting smells musty. Stale air permeates under the temporary canopy. Cold metal chairs are transformed into soft cushy parlor chairs. The camouflage does not work because the chairs still feel cold like my heart. More fake green carpeting covers the recently ravaged earth. Immortality is present. My steps across the carpet are without noise matching the crowd. I look down at my new shoes and see wayward dirt encasing my heels.

A gigantic flag is removed and folded with expert precision like the work of a talented tool and die maker. The craftsman lies silently but peacefully within a beautiful carved vessel with the wood shined and buffed to a brilliant sheen. It looks so like one of his fantastic creations. He would have approved of this finely crafted ship that takes him beyond away from his loved ones. It has his stamp of approval, a truly divine piece of art for his solo departure from this place. Eternity prevails. Memories of him trudging through the yard with faded leather boots encrusted with dried mud flash through my mind.

A delicate ribbon has been secured around the handle of a small white plastic shovel. The tool sits atop the vessel. I gaze at the shovel and I can see him digging away and doing what he loved to do. I blink and come back to reality. He will dig no more, only in my thoughts. When I smell the musty odor of dirt I will think of him and remember. I look at the dusting of dirt on my shoes.

I watch his children overcome with grief and sadness. Their loss painful and unbearable pushes them into a dark abyss. Each one absorbs the enormity of the situation in their own way. I see them empowered by the misery and it’s like watching a volcano erupt spewing hot molten lava across the earth paralyzing everything in its path. Their sorrow seems like the horrific force of hurricane winds whipping across the land, bending, breaking and destroying precious memories. The sky has fallen; the earth has tipped and collided with an alien planet leaving a lifetime of emotions exposed and vulnerable. The heels of my shoes slip slowly into the dirt.

His wife stands like a proud soldier, indestructible, powerful and determined. She really is an imposter made of delicate porcelain ready to shatter at any moment. If she stood in the noonday sun she would melt like a Popsicle and if the wind were to blow she would be swept away. Oblivion shrouds her every thought and movement. She accepts her new unwanted singleness as she accepts the sun rising in the East. Her emptiness is bountiful. The eyes once a brilliant shade of blue is awash in despair. She is suspended between here and there. She is a lost soul in the valley of helplessness. Shining through the darkness her love for him shines as if it were a beacon on a lighthouse.

The priest standing at the head of the vessel his tall frame bent with age begins his farewell speech. I watch his lips quiver but I hear nothing lost within my sorrow. His hands flutter through the air as he reaches for the white plastic shovel tied with a bow. I can imagine what he is saying but I am off to some distant place and I only hear my heavy breathing. I wonder how well the old priest knew him. Had he ever watched him shovel through enormous banks of snow? Did he see him erecting his numerous stone walls? Did he taste any of the vegetables from his prolific garden? Did he watch him dig by hand with a garden shovel three ponds? I can still see him toiling away; sweat dripping from his brow, his shirt stained with soil and always a hint of content surrounding him. The priest holds the white plastic shovel in the air and then lays it with honor upon the casket. A slight breeze ripples the ribbon tied to the shovel. The priest bows his head and recites a prayer. I hear the words, “dust to dust”. I lower my head and look at my shoes.
The mourners disperse in a quiet solemn march back to their vehicles. The September sun beats down scorching more of the dried grass and wilting the fresh flowers. Salty tears melt into the beads of sweat upon my upper lip. I wipe away the telltale signs of anguish with a damp used tissue. The silence is unsettling. People are moving, car doors are shutting and vehicles drive slowly away but still the hush

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