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dove   As a participant in church youth activities and outings, he was one of those young men who was always athletic, good-natured, cooperative, and congenial. When he graduated from high school and enlisted in the Army, following in the military footsteps of his relatives, we sent him off with every expectation that he would succeed and serve admirably. Toward the end of his basic training we received the terrible news that he had killed himself, alone in his barracks, when everyone else was away on leave. Family and friends were devastated. As his pastor officiating at his funeral I also was at a loss to speak much more than our affection and appreciation for the young man we knew and to pray that God heal his and our broken hearts.
People took part in the funeral with the open emotions and incredulity that come with a largely young adult crowd. Even those of us who were much older could only register our questions and grief. Tears and comforting hugs passed abundantly. The crowd moved to the cemetery in old Aspen Grove, where the trees provided graveside shade on a sunny afternoon, on the edge of a slope into a sheltered valley.
The family had chosen a symbol that seemed fitting of the idea of the spirit’s release into the heavens—a white dove, actually a homing pigeon, freed at the end of the graveside committal service to fly away. Only the bird, once freed, made a circle and came right back to the casket to perch. A little polite waving had no effect on the bird. We proceeded, of course, to complete the actions at the cemetery, accommodating the presence of the white dove.
Family and friends returned to the grave in the following days, only to find the dove nearby or at the marker. “What does this mean?” they asked each other, until presumably the owner of the pigeon came to claim his bird and take him home. Not believing that everything necessarily has a meaning, I deferred to others’ answers. Still, I heard people say often enough that he did not really want to leave us and needed to find a way to let us know.