One day, a young man said difficult goodbyes to his family and walked out the door of his Massachusetts home to fight. Perhaps it was a warm summer morning in 1812 or 1862, or a rainy spring evening in 1919 or 1942. It may have been just last year.
I don't know how it began or when it became an annual Memorial Day event, but the Garden of Flags displayed on Boston Common is something we ought to keep doing. This year, the Massachusetts Military Heroes Fund enlisted the help of over 600 volunteers to plant American flags near the Soldiers and Sailors Monument. Each one of the 37,000 flags commemorates a Massachusetts member of the armed forces who died in the line of duty since the American Revolution.
The sea of flags is both beautiful and staggering. Covering so much ground, waving in the wind on a sunny day, the sight is inspiring. But the fact that each flag represents someone's life story -- and that it is only there because that person's life ended in sacrificial service -- calls us to reflect.
The scenarios are as unique as the people who lived them. One day, a young man said difficult goodbyes to his family and walked out the door of his Massachusetts home to fight. Perhaps it was a warm summer morning in 1812 or 1862, or a rainy spring evening in 1919 or 1942. It may have been just last year. He could have volunteered out of a sense of national pride or duty, or shuddered to hear his number or name called in a draft. He may have graduated from a military academy as a commissioned officer, or dropped out of high school to sign up and do whatever he could to help. She may have had a clear idea of what to expect, or been surprised, even dismayed, at what she saw. He may have known a lot, or practically nothing much about the war he was fighting or the place he was being sent to fight it. It may not even have been called a "war."
The life stories behind the 37,000 flags are diverse. They symbolize men and women, defending the United States in conflicts we remember well as well as those we only vaguely recall from high school history class. The only common element is that every one of the people those flags represent never came home, at least not home to Massachusetts.
I think much the same way about the people I encounter at Mass. Each of the people who sit in the pews and every one of the names inserted into the Eucharistic Prayer has a life story. Invariably, that story contains faith and struggle, joys and losses, tough choices, full days, and empty nights. Although I may never have the chance to hear or read it, there would be something worth learning from each one of them. Even more, there would be something to gain from spending time with the person whose story it is. That can be said of everyone.
But that is only half of the stories we live and can tell one another. The faces we see in at work or school, or on the commuter rails, or behind the wheel of the car that passes us on the highway also represent a unique story of God's faithfulness and love. Each person is a testimony to the generosity of the Creator. Every life is a witness to God's providence and care. Even our own names and faces have something to reveal about God.
I think the world looks a lot like the Garden of Flags. I think heaven will look that way, too. Except that instead of just marveling at the crowd, we will be able to know the stories attached to each one gathered. And they will be able to know ours. There, we will all be planted together in one place: safe and not forgotten in the hands of the God who saved each one of us.
JAYMIE STUART WOLFE IS A WIFE AND MOTHER OF EIGHT CHILDREN, AND A DISCIPLE OF THE SPIRITUALITY OF ST. FRANCIS DE SALES. SHE IS AN INSPIRATIONAL AUTHOR, SPEAKER, MUSICIAN AND SERVES AS A CHILDREN'S EDITOR AT PAULINE BOOKS AND MEDIA.
Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a Catholic convert, wife, and mother of eight. Inspired by the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales, she is an author, speaker, and musician, and serves as a senior editor at Ave Maria Press. Find Jaymie on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @YouFeedThem.