I’ve been to Arlington Cemetery twice in my life. The first time was to visit my grandmother’s grave in the columbarium where she was interred more than 30 years ago. After visiting her resting place, we were able to explore the grounds. I was a young teenager at the time and I remember feeling simply in awe of that place as the grounds are exceptionally stunning and its hills are chalked full of history.
The second time I returned was nearly a decade later when our family gathered to lay my grandfather to rest, reuniting him at last with my grandmother. I still remember the lump in my throat as we all stood there, listening to Taps solemnly ring out amongst those hills.
Green hills lined with white markers.
The experience that day convicted me unlike my first visit. Where on my first visit I was simply an enthusiastic history lover who wanted to see all she could, this time I was left feeling more reflective. Laying someone I loved to rest at Arlington suddenly took on new life and meaning for me. I had returned a woman, now married and with my arm around my loving husband who himself was a veteran. Having grown up some, the realities of a place such as Arlington struck me a little more clearly.
I couldn’t help but think of how many people had walked on those grounds before us, doing the same thing that we were doing that day, saying goodbye to someone. Those who maybe weren’t as fortunate as I was to still have the person who meant the most to me standing with me. For some, their journey ended there as they were laid to rest, and for others, once they departed Arlington they were left to pick up the pieces.
If you have never been to Arlington, I think it an extremely pertinent experience as an American and I would encourage you to visit at some point in your life. The number of grave markers is staggering, the care and thought given to its preservation is heartfelt and the atmosphere somehow remains tranquil and beautiful.
It causes an ache in my heart to consider all that this place means and the great significance that it holds. For all of us. Hundreds of years worth of our nation’s best rest at Arlington, and in veterans cemeteries across the country whose own landscapes are dotted with the markers of veterans past. Perhaps there are even thousands of years worth of lives when their ages are added collectively. Lives given to service, service consecrated with the greatest sacrifice of all.
To visit a place like this is to be confronted with what the weight of liberty truly means and the costs of preserving freedom. These men, drafted or volunteers, served not just their country, but they also served an ideology. Ideas that don’t come cheap.
And to preserve this dream, this nation, this light on a hill, meant fathers that may never live to see their children grow. It meant that husbands wouldn’t get to grow old while holding their spouse’s hand. It meant that there would be strapping young men with the world seemingly at their fingertips who would never graduate from college and move back to their hometown or enjoy Saturday night beers with their buddies.
It meant that these men gave everything in the pursuit of preserving a way of life and a system of beliefs while their only consolation was that it would someday be something that later generations or, Lord willing, their own children would enjoy and fully possess.
It isn’t just men who rest at Arlington. There are women. Wives who looked after the home front and the children while their husbands were deployed. Wives who maybe lost the man of their dreams in a combat theater and had to push on with their lives. Women who have valiantly served our country, proving that knowledge of courage, honor and discipline are traits that any of us can possess. That is part of the American dream.
Indeed it has always been and I certainly hope that it shall always be so.
Thank a veteran today, thank God for our veterans past.