The Thomas Family took us to visit Arlington National Cemetery and The Tomb of the Unknowns (or The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, depending on who you ask.) Arlington National Cemetery will have a post soon…I can’t write about it and The Tomb in one blog posting. They are both just too…well, just too much.
The Tomb was a profound dichotomy for me. At once I was proud and deeply, deeply humbled. The requirement for a free nation is enshrined in marble and granite: a dead American soldier. Inside that dark box lies what allows us to disagree and discuss and pray and vote and march: blood given in selfless service. I watched a lone, stoic soldier walk with a solemnity and grace that I did not know existed outside of imagination. I felt connected to him, grateful to him, and awed by him.
He is not the only one of his kind, but they are all a singular testament to the sincerity of the Fighting Man. I am so thankful for them all. (my neighbor was a Tomb Guard. he also worked at the White House, but I think the Tomb Guard job is way more impressive…) 😉
“Taps” was played while I was there. I did not handle that well. Grateful for dark sunglasses, I stood there, tears tracking my cheeks, eyes closed, praying fervently that I’d never have to hear that terrible/lovely/haunting/heart breaking tune again. I prayed and prayed and ached and ached. …and then they played it again and I wanted to run away. Listening to “Taps” is like penance for me. It’s like I have to listen to the whole thing, let the ache wash over and through me and embrace it like labor pains as a way of joining in to some cosmic, collective pain that military spouses all take part in. Even those whose spouses Come Home feel the sharp sting of “what if” and “next deployment” and “my friend’s husband’s funeral” and “oh, my God, I feel so guilty for just being alive with a whole family” and “thank You, God, for It All” when those simple notes float through the air like a lilting and comforting funeral pall. I know it was written for bedtime. I get the “get some rest, boys” source. Now, though…now “Taps” rips my guts out.
I cannot imagine that Buckingham Palace and her guards could possibly hold a candle to The Tomb of the Unknowns. If you haven’t been there, haven’t heard “Taps” at Arlington, haven’t heard the scrape, scratch, click of the sentry’s shoes, you should. You should go and get your guts ripped out and stand with pride that you’re an American. If you have been there, have had your guts ripped out, then you Know.
If you’ve buried someone there (or anywhere), been handed a flag, had to wipe the hot and terrible tears of a child from their creamy little cheeks, then all I can say, my lovely Brave One, is that I love you. Whoever you are.