I was recently in Guernsey, Wyoming and had an opportunity to visit Boot Hill Cemetery off the Hartville Highway between Guernsey and Hartville. As a pastor, I may have a unique perspective on cemeteries. But I would like to think I am a human before I am a pastor. For me a walk through a cemetery is a reminder that every stone represents a life, a family or loved ones, a story, and most certainly a death.
At Boot Hill, I saw many of the things that are true of any cemetery.
There were the children. Not even knowing the people or their stories, it tears your heart out to see the graves of a six month old, a two year old, a seven year old. It is not really possible to imagine what that particular life and that particular death meant to that particular family. But it is possible just enough to really touch you.
There were couples. Perhaps they are closer in their graves than they ever cared to be during their lives. Or perhaps their graves simply reflect how they lived and walked together through this life.
There are the occasional graves of one parent and one or more children. Divorce? Separation? Death? It is impossible to guess the story.
But there were graves that truly surprised me at that cemetery along the Hartville Highway. I had not expected to find out in the Wild West along the Oregon Trail such a concrete and sobering reminder of what America is all about.
We talk these days about making America great again. I can not help but believe that what I saw on Boot Hill was a testimony to precisely what had made America great, a nation among the nations, what Ronald Reagan called “a shining city on a hill” (to borrow words from John Winthrop who borrowed them from the Bible).
There I saw the graves of veterans. Of people who died in middle age. Of small children. There were Japanese buried there, with Japanese lettering on their headstones. Germans. Greeks. Italians. Lots of Italians. Out in the middle of Wyoming. Along the Oregon Trail. It was not what I expected. I was looking for Civil War veterans. And those who could not survive the Oregon Trail.
But what I saw in the middle of the grass and cactus and rock reminded me of who we are as a nation. We are a nation of immigrants. We are a nation of people bound together by the ideas of equality, and freedom, and having a shot at happiness.
I am grateful for the opportunity to walk through a cemetery along a hillside in Wyoming. And whenever I hear “Make America Great Again” from here on out, what I will think of is a nation of blue collar immigrants.