Voice on the Wind
by Michael A. Kelley
Condensed from New York Times
as printed in Readers Digest May 1993
I love a Memorial Day parade. The sound of a brass band and the sight of Old Glory whipping in the breeze always bring a catch in my throat. But one recent Memorial Day brought me something different. The soft quiet and mystery of it comes to me now as we approach that time again.
Visiting friends in the country for the weekend, I had gone for a walk along back roads through farmland. Soon I found myself approaching a long field of rye just coming into full growth. The wind was blowing from behind me, and the sight of tall rye grass being brushed back stopped me in my tracks.
From my sailing days as a youngster, I recalled looking downwind to watch a strong gust comb the backs of the waves that fled before it. Now I saw a puff of wind touch the edge of the field and push a wave of grass all the way across.
I stepped off the road into a wide swath cut through the field. The rye was almost as tall as I was and nearly surrounded me. I listened to it sigh in the loving hands of the wind. There was no other sound.
I don't recall how long I stood there, nor am I sure I can adequately describe what happened next.
The sound was becoming vaguely familiar, like a quiet human voice from far away. Suddenly I knew the grinning face behind it. Out there in the field, a young friend was greeting me, letting me know on this Memorial Day that he was still around.
I did not find it strange to hear the sound of my own sure voice saying, "Thank you" to him. Nineteen years earlier, he had been flown home, resting in his deep military casket, and here I was saying "Thank you" out loud and envisioning his name on a long, black wall in Washington D.C.
There were so many thousands of others, but I heard this voice because it belonged to one I knew. I could just as well have heard one from a field in France or Belgium, a hill in Italy or an island in the Pacific.
I didn't fully understand how I heard the voice so clearly that day, or my natural and audible response to it. I did not know whether my friend heard me say "Thank you." I didn't need to know then.
As I turned and walked away from the field of rye, there was no mystery to what I next experienced.
I simply felt full and uncomplicated gratitude for so many who gave their lives that I might walk this road in this country - a free man who could say "Thank you."