There is something surreal about a cemetery. Especially one this grandiose. As I sit beneath a tree next to a grave in Arlington Cemetery, I am overcome with thoughts about life and opportunities and also of death and loss.
I have been in DC for several weeks now in addition to the several visits I made in my youth. In all of those visits there are constantly two-story buses tagged with logos and advertisements for tours around the historic Capitol city. These buses cart millions of tourists every year to museums, landmarks, and memorial sites with puny and captivating tour guides leading the charge. Families of every background and ethnicity tote toddlers and preteens alike through disastrous family vacations with the sincere hope of bonding and growth. Today, I took the metro…alone…to a cemetery–to be alone with my thoughts and my memories before life speeds up once more.
The Arlington estate is itself is massive. It is hard to process the sheer number of people that have been buried there since its first use as a burial ground for the Civil War. The welcome building is clean and simple with key information lining glass panels and explanations beneath pictures. It takes no more than 30 minutes to circulate the entire thing and visit the quaint gift shop. I have always loved simple museums. They are clear and do not dilute the importance by finding as many small pieces as possible. After arriving and refilling my water bottle, I let the weight of where I had chosen to spend my day sink in.
It must be stated that I have thankfully never lost a family member or friend to military service or international crisis. However, I do greatly respect those that serve with an uncle, boyfriend, and dear friend all currently serving. These relationships with people have greatly impacted how I view Arlington. My heart gets heavy thinking about all of the lives lost and the stories they left behind. Rather than think of war and shrapnel, I think about fathers teaching their sons to play baseball and possibly breaking a window or finger in the process. I think of mother’s telling bedtime stories and calling their college girlfriends at 11pm because it’s the only time they can even briefly catch up. I think about the teen that made bad decisions at parties and with friends that turned their life around when they learned responsibility. And when visiting the World Trade Center memorial in New York I think about the interns that were just starting out with only 4 pieces of professional clothing and one pair of shoes.
Memorials have that effect on me. I see more than names engraved, I see stories that are discontinued, or I guess that end without a detailed epilogue. I like to think of these people as they lived. Vibrant and passionate, talkative and recluse, bold and timid. They had thoughts, stories, dreams, first loves. I am happy to be here and experience this moment, however as the memorial gunshots blast signifying a funeral, I am saddened by those that were lost arguably too soon.
As for me, part of me has to smile. One because smiling is typically my default when surrounded by other lost tourists, but also because although I am young, I am happy with life and the memories I posses. I have lived wonderfully, travelled, loved, taught, and achieved. I sincerely hope there is much more of this story to be experienced, but for now I am glad for the one that exists.
May you rest in peace, daughters, sons, aunts, uncles, children, friends. I may never learn more from you than what I did today, but sincerely, I appreciate it.