Lonely Soldier

ConfederateJust before Memorial Day, I was walking from my Jeep to the church hall when  a small flag waving in the breeze caught my eye. It was situated in the center of the church cemetery just beside a very old tombstone.

The design of the flag looked very familiar, but it was one I had never noticed there before. So I took a short walk over to the gravesite to get a closer look. As it turns out, it was what most people call the Confederate Flag.

“It was never really the Confederate Flag…”

Being somewhat of a history buff, I can give you a little aside here and mention that it was never really the Confederate Flag at all. It was the flag of the Army of Northern Virginia. Still, it was used during the American Civil War, so I can certainly understand the confusion.

Its stand was implanted in the ground just beside the grave marker of a man named Phillip Beach. There are many people from the Beach family buried in that yard, but this gentleman was apparently different than the rest. He was a Civil War Veteran.

I don’t know his history (maybe someday I’ll be able to learn more). But his headstone says he died in 1897. That same stone reads, “Thus star by star declines till all are passed away.” It’s from a poem by James Montgomery entitled, “Parted Friends.”

Because of where we’re located and the particular flag that was used, I’m guessing he was an actual member of the Army of Northern Virginia. If I’m reading the inscription correctly, he was forty-three years old when the war began.

I’ve been pastor here for over twenty-one years now. I’ve never spotted this genre of flag there before. Maybe I’m just not very observant, or maybe it just stands out now because of all the controversy over it in the past couple of years.

Flag of NOVAMaybe it’s something else entirely. You see, this was the only flag in our cemetery on Memorial Day. It really stood out because there were no American Flags anywhere. I realize we have a small burial ground, but surely there are some WWI and II vets here somewhere.

What we do today may be forgotten…

None of this is really a big deal—just curious. But it all reminds me of something that I occasionally am given pause to ponder. Once we’re gone, we are so quickly overlooked. The fact that many tombstones read, “Gone but not forgotten” is touching. The truth is, however, we are all too soon forgotten. Unless we’re a famous name in the history books, it only takes a couple generations to wipe out most recollections of us (even from our own families).

All this re-emphasized (in my mind at least) how important our lives are this second. The moments we spend on this earth are precious, few, and irreplaceable. We need to make the most of each one. We hear it all the time, and it’s true. What we do today may be forgotten, but it will never die.

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel, in Great Falls, VA.]

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