There is no doubt that all of us are coping with unprecedented challenges as we live amidst the swirl of health care challenges, social unrest, political turmoil, and glaring inequities. In moments like these, it can be hard to find silver linings and reasons to feel truly grateful. Yet, for many of us, though we stand under dark clouds, there are, indeed, reasons to appreciate life’s gifts. That’s what we hear from Richard Lawrence.  

Richard Lawrence is on the faculty of the Mount Saint Charles Academy in Woonsocket, Rhode Island.

It is the day after the country celebrated “Memorial Day.”

I wait until I think there will be no one at the Veterans’ Cemetery.

I think that if I wait 24 hours, there will be few people at this place.

I decide that this will be the day when I will make my “pilgrimage” to the grave where my parents are buried.  

I rise very early - before the dawn. When I arrive at the bike path - the first part of my “pilgrimage,” the morning air is still cool. My cycling journey will cover nearly 40 miles. During the first leg of my journey, I encounter no one. There is much time to reflect about my parents and how they nurtured me.

Four and a half hours later, I am back at the car and it is time for me to make my way to the cemetery. I am correct. There are few people. There is a burial going on in the distance. Otherwise, I am almost alone. 

Thousands of grave sites - all decorated with an American flag.

The experience is spiritual.

I am glad that I am here.

My presence there gives rise to another time when I was at a gravesite. 

It is Veterans Day, almost seven months ago. I am in a very remote part of northeast Arizona, part of the Navajo Nation, with a group of my students. We are to clean up around the gravesite of an Army veteran who died and was buried on a hillside overlooking his home. We are told that the place where he is buried - about a mile from where he lived and off a trail that is barely passable - has only been visited by his wife once in three years. She has decided that it is time to visit and to clean the site.

The gravesite is high on a hill, surrounded by a charred area of acres of burned-out vegetation. (There had been a wildfire there some 13 years ago. Thousands of acres had burned. The vegetation has struggled to come back to life in this water-starved land. Some sort of creature had burrowed holes around the gravesite. The students fill the holes and cover them with large rocks and then rake and weed the site. The Navajo woman whose husband lies buried there is so pleased with what the students have done. She asks the Sister who is our guide on this day to lead us in prayer - on that desolate hillside - and so we pray. 

And I think how different the two worlds are and wonder how it was that I was born and raised in a place where so much in life is handed to you.

And I am thankful.