Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Powerful Image

By Mark W. Danielson

This isn’t my photo. I borrowed it from a Facebook friend. I’m posting it here because of the powerful images it provokes. Better than the best prose, this picture speaks volumes because it captures our hearts. Why is that? Is it because of the eagle, the cemetery, or both? Let’s start with the eagle.

More than a symbol of the United States, the American Bald Eagle is perhaps the most majestic bird in existence. A master of air and fierce hunter, one cannot help being in awe. We normally see this bird soaring or attacking with its talons out. Perhaps this is why it is so heartbreaking to see it perched atop a tombstone in a veterans’ cemetery.

Even without the eagle, this cemetery photo is chilling as we imagine the young faces of those buried in the endless rows. Futures denied and future generations lost because of war. In the background, the mist and low sun forge a solitary setting. Add the perched eagle and eyes start to well.

What makes this photo especially interesting is how the eagle hides the veteran’s religious affiliation. Without realizing it, this bird demonstrated that people of all denominations die in the name of the sword, but in the end, dead is dead – at least in our dimension. No political rhetoric or medal can change that for these veterans, but even death cannot strip them of the honor. This is what these cemeteries are for -- to pay homage and honor their memories.

If I was teaching a writing class, I would ask my students to write a short story about this photo. No doubt some would share tales of their loved ones while others might debate politics. Certainly whatever stories they share would be extremely personal and touching. I would than ask them to write a brief description of this this photo. Some may pronounce it the bite of approaching winter while others may pray for eternal peace for those who died for their country. But since I am not a professor of creative writing, I am opening this up to our blog readers. What, exactly, do you see in this photo, and can you describe it in a sentence or two? The challenge is yours.


Bill Kirton said...

Too many conflicting emotions to concentrate them in a few words, Mark, however well chosen. War cemeteries like this, wherever they are, are heartbreaking - the futility of conflict, the fact that winning is at such a cost and therefore a tarnished concept, the deaths of so many invariably young people. And yet here, symbolised by the eagle, you have the survival of pride, honour, life - a confirmation that, despite the futility, the nobler sentiments prevail.

Equally, though, the rows of graves could be seen as a mockery of all that the eagle represents.

See what I mean? It's too complex an image for my tiny brain.

Mark W. Danielson said...

Well spoken, Bill. The scene also reminds me of the 60's era song "One Tin Soldier[rides away]." War is sad regardless of which "side" one is on.

Jean Henry Mead said...

I agree with Bill. I have so many conflicting emotions when I view the photo. The futility and heartbreak of war yet the hope the eagle represents to me that somehow civilization will survive.

Mark W. Danielson said...

Amen, Jean.

Jaden Terrell said...

Beautifully said, all of you. It's a touching picture, Mark, and evokes a swell of conflicting emotions.

If I had to write a short story about it, though, I would prbably have it as the final scene in which the presence of the eagle is seen as a message of comfort and inspiration to someone struggling with the loss of the young man in the grave, perhaps a Native American (because of the symbolism of the eagle in those cultures). The protagonist might be a member of that young man's platoon, who has, for years, been carrying guilt over an act of perceived cowardice.

Mark W. Danielson said...

That's in interesting take, Beth. The eagle carries a wealth of symbolism. I recently spoke at an Eagle Scout Court of Honor and presented the awardee with a Hopi Indian money clip, filled with symbolic engraving. Like any symbol, the emotion taken from such symbolism is entirely up to the individual, which is what makes this photo particularly impressive.