The fox didn’t seem to notice me.
Leavenworth National Cemetery is a place of serene beauty. Uniform white marble headstones, equally spaced, lie silent amidst manicured green grass. Each stone lists the branch of service, rank, name, birth and death dates of the person eternally resting below. Many have an engraved cross, or an added message.
Some of the words etched on my son’s headstone are: 1st Lt. Benjamin Grant Davis, December 7, 1975 to July 25, 2004. Beloved husband and father. U.S. Army, Airborne. I can’t remember exactly, or the order of the words. You might think this would be seared into my brain, but it’s the opposite. I don’t want to remember it. Sometimes I still get lost on the 50-minute drive to the cemetery. Because at a distance the headstones all look identical, I stop at the visitor’s center and enter his name into the grave site locator. Section 57 Row 9 Site 11. It’s engraved on the back of the headstone as 57 9 11, making it easy to see on approach, if only I could remember.
I go to the cemetery maybe two or three times a year, usually on a day when I hope few other people will be there. I take a small item like a guitar pick or seashell, a stone or a penny, that I lodge in the dirt next to the marble slab. Sometimes I take fresh flowers, and sometimes I take a photo of him to tape next to his name, knowing it’s temporary, but that puts a face to the young man buried there.
I sit on the grass in front the headstone. I touch the cold stone, feeling the deep crevices of the letters. I tell Ben how much I miss him. I look up and talk to the open sky where I imagine his spirit floats in the unknown. It’s always sad, and each time different. Sometimes I sit quietly and remember him, or sometimes grief wells up from within and I cry.
At one visit I followed my routine, sat down in front of the headstone and suddenly began to wail. I sobbed with the deep emptiness of a mother with her child no longer within reach. I cried words of loss, of a longing for his presence. I cried into my hands, no longer wanting to read the words declaring my son dead. Finally, I stood up and walked back to my car, needing tissues and a drink of water. I sat there for a few minutes, calming myself for the drive home.
A movement caught my eye and I gasped as the red fox trotted along the the front row of headstones. His head was up, eyes directed forward, long, full tail flowing straight out behind. His coat was a deep burnt orange, like a gleaming copper penny – the color of my son’s hair – vivid against the creamy white marble. He stopped for a moment to survey his territory at the marker of Section 57. Then the fox resumed his journey and disappeared into the border of trees across the road.
While driving home I thought about the fox and the possible meaning, if any, of his unexpected appearance. Upon researching foxes, I learned they are considered cunning, adept, and loyal to its mate, with acute mental and physical awareness. Foxes are nocturnal, which made his daylight appearance even more stunning. But on a day when I needed comfort, the fox became a reminder of beauty, that nature flows on around us, and of a drive for basic survival. Like a fox, Ben was a critical thinker, smart, and a loyal family member and friend. He worked hard to be the best officer possible, caring for his troops and the serious nature of his job.
I like the idea of the fox as a cemetery guard, paroling the grounds holding so many loved ones. And I love the connection of the fox’s fur and my son’s striking copper hair.