By Spencer PriceI had a long ‘to do’ list last week before leaving for Afghanistan ‘“ visit family and friends, go to the bank, clean out the frig, etc. After nearly two weeks of scratching things off, I finally came to the last item ‘“ going to spend time with John Edward. It’s always the last thing I do before I go away. The reason it’s always the last thing I do is because it’s always the hardest.It was warm when I got to the cemetery. The sky was clear blue. A gentle breeze was blowing. I looked around but saw no one. I was alone. As I got out of the car and walked toward his grave, I got that same feeling in my stomach I always get ‘“ a hollowness that seems to spread throughout my body, leaving me weak and empty.As I knelt beside him, looking at his gravestone, reading his name over and over, I thought back over his life. I remembered how amazed I was that he could smile in spite of all he’d been through, all the operations, all the IVs and feeding tubes, and all the pain. I remembered how happy he sounded when he laughed and how peaceful he looked when he slept. And I remembered that, upon looking at him that first time, I had finally come to understand the true meaning of unconditional love.Then, looking away from his gravestone and down at the ground in which his little body rests, I also remembered the day we buried him ‘“ that was the day I learned the true meaning of hallowed ground. I placed my hand on the ground for a long moment. There, just below where I knelt, was my son’s final resting place ‘“ to me, the most sacred place on earth, hallowed ground.For a long time I sat there, remembering, thinking. I thought about all the places that are sacred to me ‘“ the place where Uncle Lum is buried, and Clarence, and Tara, the place where my mother and father will be laid to rest when their time comes, and even the place where I’ll be laid to rest someday, there beside my John Edward. I even thought about the places where beloved pets are buried ‘“ Amour, Buddy, and of course, Max ‘“ hallowed ground all.I then began to think about other hallowed ground ‘“ places not where loved ones are buried but rather where happy memories were made. I thought about my childhood home on the lake, the woods behind the house where I played, the pasture where my first pony lived. I thought about the beach in Florida we often visited when I was a child and the mountains in West Virginia where daddy grew up. I thought about the first time I saw the Rockies and the feelings they inspired. And I thought about the farm where I live now, my little corner of the world, my refuge from the struggles of daily life, and I realized that all those places are also hallowed ground.Then I thought about my imminent deployment overseas and pondered the reasons for my going. Some would say it was political ideology, or religious convictions, or maybe even oil. But, I knew instead, the real reason was right there in front of me ‘“ hallowed ground.When the time came to leave, I put my fingers to my lips, kissed them, and then touched John Edward’s gravestone. I then touched the ground once more before rising to leave. As I reached my truck, a song by George Strait was playing low on the radio ‘“ ‘Love Without End, Amen.’ How fitting, I thought.That’s the way I felt about John Edward, and that’s the way I felt about all those sacred places were loved ones lie and where happy memories were made ‘“ places that are, truly, hallowed ground.Editor’s note: A flight surgeon, Major Spencer Price currently serves as Chief, Aviation Medicine, Georgia Army National Guard and is a member of the DOD/NASA Space Operations Medical Support Team for the Space Shuttle program. He has participated in several Space Shuttle support missions and training exercises. He is a former newspaper staff writer and has written numerous magazine articles. Major Price lives on an Upson County farm where he raises registered Black Angus cattle. He has two Yellow Labrador retrievers, Dutch and Gracie. His interests include, among others, politics, national security issues, military history and insurgency and counter-insurgency warfare. He is now serving in Afghanistan.