Some may think my family’s weekend routine odd, because it is common to find us at a National Cemetery. Cemeteries are not spooky to me, in fact it’s quite the opposite, as I find them restorative and supportive of contemplation of life’s more considerable themes.
The draw for my family includes the freedom of being outside, the open expanse of aesthetically manicured grounds, and the quiet, restful environment that dramatically reduces cortisol levels.
(Parenthetical insert: If you do not have something in your routine that gives you the opportunity to reduce cortisol levels, you must be intentional about finding one. Now. All leaders need a consistent restorative outlet to counter the stressors associated with leading. *Stepping off my soap box now.*)
Another reason we visit National Cemeteries is to teach our young boys gratitude. You may not be aware you can show gratitude to the families of those who have served our country and protected our freedoms by leaving a coin on the grave marker.
We bring pennies to the cemetery and we look for graves that appear to have been visited recently, as marked by flowers or balloons. We read the gravestone aloud, acknowledge the years of life, and then leave a penny as a sign to the family that someone has visited their family member’s grave and to let them know we are grateful for their service.
This past Saturday, we were surprised to see an unusually high number of vehicles and visitors as we pulled into the cemetery. It became clear they were all attending the same memorial service.
We had arrived at the end of the ceremony and watched as the large crowd of military, law enforcement, and guests donned in black apparel walked slowly back to their vehicles.
Curious who would draw such an incredible crowd, we approached the graveside. I immediately felt a sick knot in my stomach. The freshness of the grave and the fact that the young Marine was only 22 when he died brought instant tears to my eyes.
What struck me most was the date of his death: August 26, 2021. I instantly remembered what had happened on that day. The Taliban had recently taken over Afghanistan and it was a rush to get everyone out of the country before the August 30 deadline. On August 26, a suicide bomber killed 12 service members outside the Kabul airport. This young Marine was one of the 12.
Regardless of the political views of war, the tragic death of this promising Marine is devastating. His service and ultimate sacrifice, and that of his family, conjures up deep gratitude.
My usually rambunctious 4-year-old sensed the solemnity and dutifully saluted the grave. He silently took the penny and placed it on the temporary grave marker.
It is important for us to say thank you. Thank you to Hunter. Thank you to his family. Thank you to those who have and continue to serve.
We left changed. This Marine and his family gave the ultimate sacrifice. I could not help but say thank you from the gratitude welling up inside, and ultimately I felt it was far too small for the sacrifice given.
In the moment of overwhelming gratefulness, I pondered how often I say thank you, how often I show my gratitude.
I consider the world in which this young man lost his life. Today’s world is far more likely to see someone yelling in anger rather than voicing gratitude.
This world leans away from expressing gratefulness, even when it may be felt.
I choose to break that cycle. I choose to show gratitude.
Whether you are in a formal leadership role, parenting role, or simply desiring to leave a positive legacy, it is important to determine ways that you can show gratitude.
How will you practice gratitude today?