It took me 3 ½ years in the city to finally go to Arlington National Cemetery. On a metro map it looks far away from the rest of the city, separated from me by line changes and the DC/VA border. But, in reality it’s really just a short walk over the bridge from the Lincoln Memorial.
Nothing compares to the utter sadness you feel as you walk through the grounds surrounded by thousands of small grave stones. You are struck with the realization that years of wars and fighting have led to more and more white graves. Its sadness though makes it beautiful. So does its simplicity. Without being detailed the stretching expanse of graves says magnitudes.
As you walk off the beaten track you start stumbling into the rows of older, custom designed graves, dating back for 100s of years. There are cannons marking graves and copper statues and intricately carved marble. It shocks you that something marking someone’s death can be as beautiful and poetic as it is.
As I wandered by myself, stopping and starring in solitude, you can’t help but be quiet as you wander from site to site, an older man approached me asking if I was a tourist. I said I was. He slowly began to take me on a tour of one of the oldest sections of the cemetery. As we wandered from grave to grave, he gave me a detailed history of the person we passed and their family. It was clear he spent a lot of time at wandering the grounds. The stories he told made the graves and the names come to life. One family had at least one relative serving in the US military since before the Revolutionary War. One father had a copper plate carving of his son made, with as much detail as possible.
After my personal tour I continued to wander, eventually coming to the old amphitheater. The photographic angles were irresistible, as were the emotions the amphitheater was able to speak, with its smooth marble wall. I arrived just as the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was beginning. People cluttered around the stone railing to watch, as I stood on my tiptoes and peered over their heads and between their shoulders. It’s a beautiful tradition, but the whole procedure of changing the guard seems much more complicated than it needs to be.
I walked the grounds for hours, baffled by how calming and serene a cemetery could be. Baffled by the fact that I hadn’t been there before. I made all the traditional stops, the buried presidents and congressman. I turned my head every time I saw a familiar name from my history books, astounded by the history that emitted from the graves.
If it weren’t for the fact that I needed to take the long metro ride home I would have stayed from hours wandering and weaving between the graves looking at the names of all the people who died, fighting for or in service for our country.
I should mention the fact that I consider myself as close to a pacifist as I can be. I’m not a proponent of the military, but walking through Arlington, my opinions on war and the military didn’t matter. What matters is that, these men and women lost their lives in the name of our country, whether you agree with the war or wars they were fighting or not. Arlington is not about the wars, it’s about the people who have died.