On a large expanse of green grass, impeccably neat rows of white crosses cover 172 acres, acting as grave stones that bear the names of the soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice in service of their country.
When the youth and adult leaders from St. Martin’s Episcopal Church visited the American Cemetery in Normandy, France, we were left in awe, without words. We entered into the cemetery and walked in silence until I invited everyone to gather around a particular grave. This was the resting place of Second Lt. Preston Niland, who died on June 7, 1944 at just 29 years of age. As the team gazed upon his grave stone, it took but a moment for them to notice that Second Lt. Niland was from their hometown, Tonawanda, New York. Their gaze was then directed to an adjacent grave – that of 25-year old Technical Sergeant Robert Niland, also from Tonawanda, who had passed on June 6, 1944.
Two soldiers, two brothers, who had died one day apart.
As I began to reflect with the team on the nature of sacrifice, we were suddenly and boldly interrupted by the piercing cry of a trumpet playing TAPS. Stunned into silence, emotions arose and tears stained our cheeks as the horn’s song echoed in our ears and moved our hearts. Intimately connected, we stood in quiet reflection. I broke the silence with a prayer of gratitude for the selfless sacrifice of the Niland Brothers and for all who gave their lives so that we might have freedom, for the God who walks with us in dark times, and for Jesus, who gave us life through the selfless sacrifice of his own life.
It is a moment of wonder when the presence of God reaches through all that we as Wonder Voyage Directors plan and imagine, and opens the door to something amazing and unexpected. What began on this pilgrimage as the telling of a story was transformed into a holy and sacred experience by the haunting beauty of a trumpet’s blare. Such moments remind us that we are but vessels through which God works. We remember that our call is to lead and serve our pilgrims with loving and willing hearts, and to trust that God is present in it all.
A passion for exploration of both the world and her faith brought Laurel to Wonder Voyage. She is a Transitional Deacon who serves as the Associate for Youth and Spiritual Engagement at St. Francis Episcopal Church in Palos Verdes, California and anticipates being ordained to the Priesthood in January of 2019. Laurel also works as event management consultant and is a Certified Spiritual Director. She feeds her soul through traveling, biking and singing!