It was a sunny Saturday afternoon when we decided to try our new discs at a local 9-hole disc golf course. We had ordered them online and were anxious to see if they delivered on
a promise to make us better players.
The course is located in a mixed-use community park featuring a campground, nature trails, a Boy Scout conservancy area and several softball & baseball diamonds. Along the southern edge of the park is a water detention basin which doubles as a sport field and open space, bordering a cemetery.
We ‘teed off” and were approaching the third hole when a group began playing behind us.
Their laughter and excited screams indicated they were having fun. It was outdoors yet I silently questioned why they needed to be so loud. Most disc golfers followed the courtesy rules of the game, including not being too loud or “pushing” the group ahead.
As we moved to the next hole, the gang behind was closing in. They had finished the second hole and were already “putting” hole 3.
Hole four leads across the water detention basin and the launch for hole five comes back across. It had rained the previous night so standing water presented the risk of me having to trudge through water to retrieve it. Plus, given the pace of the players behind, I didn’t want to slow my team down. I chose instead to sit at the nearby picnic table to wait.
The group behind us caught up toting Ultimate Frisbees. As they casually approached, they gave a Wisconsin wave and said “hey.” There was nothing flippant about their tone, but I had a preconceived opinion about the young and boisterous.
The group consisted of three young men around the age of 15. The first one to throw was the smallest of the three. He carried a super-sized beverage in one hand and tossed the Frisbee with the other. I’ll call him Kip. When the Frisbee landed about 100 feet away, Kip looked at me and said he wasn’t very good. His two friends chimed in to contradict him
proclaiming that he was just new to the game.
The second young man launched his Frisbee about 125 feet. The third young man was carrying a backpack with what appeared to be additional discs. He stood on the pad, barely flicking his wrist and sent the Frisbee sailing about 200 feet.
I sat and watched the three begin to walk the side hill toward their Frisbees. Kip took a slight
detour toward the adjacent cemetery while the other two carried on toward their discs. He
reached a black headstone and paused while I silently prayed he wasn’t planning to
Still gripping his drink, he slowly took a knee and lowered his head.
His actions were deliberate and struck me as reverent -- as if mourning a recent loss. He stayed on his knee for a moment, then rose. He shifted to the back of the headstone to brush off the twigs that had fallen onto it from a nearby tree. His back was to us for a bit and I noticed the other two weren’t talking or making eye contact while their friend did his thing. Now back at the front of the headstone, Kip took a long sip of his drink, nodded his head and waved goodbye to the headstone. He walked back to his disc, joined his friends and the play continued.
I don’t know if it was a shift of my assumptions, their ages, or the wave at the headstone, but my curiosity had been stirred and I wanted to make sense of the event that had just unfolded. I watched the threesome more closely and noticed how the one with the backpack helped Kip by slowing the Frisbee before it rolled into the water. I heard them encourage each other and laugh while Kip took off his shoes and splashed through the standing water.
When we finished our game, we headed to our car. The threesome was laughing loudly while horsing around on the playground equipment. Contrary to the annoyance I experienced at the beginning of the round, the volume didn’t bother me. In fact, the fun the three friends were having made me smile and feel warmth.
We left the park and turned into the cemetery. I got out of the car to locate the black headstone that “Kip” had visited. It was the headstone of a young man who had died at the young age of 21. Curiously, there were several dimes sitting at the base and I wondered about their meaning.
Once home I googled the name to find his obituary. On the funeral home website, I discovered photos of the young man with his family and I surmised that his death was unexpected, and the visitor was likely his brother. I also learned that a coin left on a headstone or at the grave site is intended as a message to a deceased soldier's family that someone has visited the grave to pay respect. A nickel indicates the visitor and the deceased trained at boot camp together, while a dime means serving together in some capacity.
There was no mention of his military service, but “served with him” felt like it had a private and personal meaning to those who left the dimes behind.
I can’t say if one of those dimes was left by Kip and I don’t know how he’s dealing or if he’s healing from the loss, but I can attest to watching him move through that day with a spirit of adventure and play. He was learning something new.
I don’t know what happens in the world beyond this one, but I believe that our lost loved ones would want us to experience joy – and so much more! They would want us to carry them in our hearts as we live and love life to the fullest. They would want us to be at peace and shine our unique and special light. They would want us to remember how special and loved we are and that we are never alone.
I am not going to shame myself for my early intolerance, but a trip to the disc golf course reminded me that I am a work in progress. Not just with the sport, but with my intention to be a better human being.
I am quick to judge others and become annoyed when situations aren’t exactly as I imagine
they should be. I dip below the self-awareness line into fear and entitlement and I can’t say those are my finer moments. I recognize all of it is part of the human experience that warrants our attention, but life is so much richer and enjoyable when viewed through the lens of awareness, love and acceptance – of self and others.
As I work to suspend judgment and live out the truth of powerful perspectives, I am learning
that no matter what we think or assume, we do not know another person’s story or struggle. My impatience and judgment reminded me to seek understanding; take time to play and laugh with friends; and be adventurous and curious.
The whisper in my ear tells me that what we love is never lost and urges me to be gracious and kind to myself and others. My hope is that Kip or anyone who mourns can hear it, too.
Grief is a complicated human emotion that stems from the depths of our heart. We grieve what we had and all that we shared. We grieve the things we will miss and the future we were supposed to have. In its highest form, grief is a reminder of deep love.
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