I believe that everyone deserves flowers on their grave.
When I go to the cemetery to visit my brother, it makes me sad to see graves — just the cold stones — and no flowers on them.
They look lonely, like nobody loves them. I believe this is the worst thing in the world — that loneliness. No one to visit you and brush off the dust from your name and cover you with color. A grave without any flowers looks like the person has been forgotten. And then what was the point of even living — to be forgotten?
Almost every day my brothers grave has something new on it: Flowers from me, or candles from the Dollar Store or an image of the Virgin Maria or shot glasses. Theres even some little Homies, these little toys that look like gangsters.
Once my brothers homies even put a bunch of marijuana on there for him — I think my mother took it away. I think she also took away the blue rag someone put there for him one day.
Sometimes, when I bring flowers, I fix the flowers on the graves around my brothers grave. Some of the headstones have birthdates near my brothers; they are young, too. But many of them, if they have any little toys or things on them, those are red.
All around my brother are boys who grew up to like red, making them the enemies of my brother. My brother was 16 when he was shot by someone who liked red, who killed him because he liked blue. And when I go to the cemetery I put flowers on the graves of the boys who liked red, too.
Sometimes I go to the cemetery with one of my best friends, who had a crush on a boy who liked red, who was killed at 18 by someone who liked blue. And we will go together and bring a big bunch of flowers, enough for both of these boys whose families are actually even from the same state in Mexico.
There is no one but me and a few of my friends who go to both graves. Some people think its a bad idea. Some people think its heroic.
I think theyre both being silly. I dont go to try and disrespect some special rules or stop any kind of war. I go because I believe that no matter where you came from or what you believed in, when you die, you want flowers on your grave and people who visit you and remember you that way.
Im not any kind of traitor or any kind of hero. I am the sister of Rogelio Bautista, and I say his name so you will hear it and be one more person that remembers him. I want everyone to remember all the boys, red and blue, in my cemetery. When we remember, we put flowers on their graves.
Elvia Bautista lives in Santa Rosa, California, where she works as a caregiver for the elderly and mentally handicapped. Bautista stayed after her brother’s murder even though the rest of her family moved away. A high school drop-out, Bautista now speaks to young people about the dangers of gang life.
Independently produced for NPR by Jay Allison and Dan Gediman with John Gregory and Viki Merrick.
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May is a season of looking ahead and remembering the past. As our youth graduate from high school and college, we feel their expectations and dreams ahead. With the freshness of a graduating class, we also honor all those who served and lost their lives in wars and conflicts. Memorial Day serves as a time to express our sorrow and an enduring sense of gratitude for all done to protect our freedom.
Graduating Provides a New Platform for Service
Remembering and looking forward can be an uncomfortable bluff to gain perspective upon. Loss is forever. Optimism seems endless, too, as a new path opens. The common element may be serving.
Graduating from school opens a new platform from which to serve. Without serving, looking forward is just speculation. Remembering is a look back at what serving has meant. Loss digs a hole. Gratitude and honor create support to recover our footing.
Never taking the step forward also produces a hole.
Higher ideals inspire women and men to join the armed forces while creating a path forward in their own lives. Military service combines a mix of joining a community of dedicated individuals to protect freedom with creating a life path forward for an individual. It is a blend of a higher calling with a personal one. Without taking this military service step forward, a hole within expands.
When graduating from high school and college, a personal satisfaction glows, and optimism renews. New graduates join a new life stage with a designated community of the next educational institution or workplace. Each individual may have lofty goals in what college will mean or what the new workplace will offer. Bright-eyed and ready yet other forces sidetrack us. Too many parties, choices of immediate and brief satisfaction, too focused on money, too focused on short-term revenue and profitability objectives, and the list grows in what can stop our step forward. Without acting on our lofty goals, a hole in our soul begins to grow.
A serving mindset entails sacrifice.
Memorial Day remembers the sacrifice of serving. An equally bold reminder is what we would sacrifice without the courage to serve.
New graduates need to embrace Memorial Day as a reminder to serve wherever you are. If you do not have a noble goal, then define one and serve. If you have a higher goal, then never lose sight of it or put it on hold for a lesser, fleeting objective.
Wherever we are, we can do better.
We don’t have to build walls. We can build bridges. Building bridges is a serving mindset.
We don’t have to put people down to advance our careers. We can build others up. Making others better is a serving mindset.
We don’t have to put winning above all else. If we are not creating well, no one wins. Creating is a serving mindset.
We don’t have to impose our self-centered objectives on others. We can collaborate and rally around a higher purpose in what we pursue. Focusing on a higher purpose is a serving mindset.
The most uncomfortable element about remembering and looking forward is death. In battles, death comes too early for those who serve. In careers, death comes too early in the form of regret for our purpose left undone. Life is too short in both. The courage to serve and exert the effort to do what matters most saves us from fading away unnoticed.
Memorial Day and Graduation Day create an interwoven and powerful reminder. We remember the enduring legacy of a serving mindset. We must never sidetrack our work to achieve a higher mission. Our soul needs this aspiration as do our communities of life, work, and citizenship.