While I was in Washington D.C. this April, one of my top priorities was getting to see Arlington National Cemetery. When you're a taphophile and aerophobic (a.k.a. afraid of flying), if you can psych yourself into getting on a plane and flying someplace with a major, historical, important cemetery nearby, you make that trip count. Mine ended up counting even more than I expected.
The photo above is from the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. While I have many beautiful and awe-inspiring photos from Arlington that I will be happy to share in another blog post, this past weekend got me thinking about this tomb again.
It serves as a symbol of all the unknown American soldiers who died without being identified, and that clicks somewhere close to heart. While the gravestone art is a major reason why I enjoy cemeteries, I also always take time out to think about how many people might be buried there that have no family or friends left, no one to remember who they were, what their story was, how they lived their life and what they stood for. I may not know any of that, but I put my humble good-thought-vibes out there nonetheless.
I may not care much for politics, or government, or war. I have opinions, but I don't need or desire a forum to shout them out loud to everybody. I have family who served in the army at various time periods, but I don't feel strongly connected to the military. So I don't feel qualified or right about speaking to those topics.
What I do care about is the act of honoring people who died, likely in violent circumstances, and could never be named. The closure for their family and friends, the courtesy and dignity of having whatever funerary arrangement they preferred, that was all denied to them. Yet... we still make an effort to show respect and acknowledge both their life and death.
I was lucky enough to catch the very last changing of the guard of the day while at the Tomb. The ceremony and the task of guarding the tomb are taken very seriously, and becoming a Sentinel is considered a great honor. I highly recommend reading "A Sentinel's Last Watch" to get an idea of how the Sentinels feel about what they do, and why it's so important.
Seeing this Tomb and the changing of the guard is a quiet, strange, melancholy, sobering, curious, yet inspiring experience. I think the world would be better off with more moments like that in our lives.