I recall a family vacation, back when I was much younger. It was a trip that I took with my father and brother. I distinctly remember this trip for several reasons, but today I am focused on one.
In my town, I do not see a lot of monuments, statues, or otherwise preserved history. Sure we have some older buildings and some places that hold significance, but, generally, it’s not that common compared to Washington D.C.
But this trip that my family took, it was meaningful to me. I recall more about this trip than any of the others to Sea World or Universal Studios. I remember how strange it was. Seeing giant white monuments everywhere. The Jefferson Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, the Vietnam Wall, Arlington Cemetary, the Washington Monument, and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Even more have been erected since I was there. Memorials like the Korean War Veteran’s Memorial and the World War II Memorial make me realize that we have quite a lot of memorials in that city.
In fact, it seems like the nation likes memorials so much we made a day for it. Memorial Day!
Now, obviously, you know Memorial Day is not about visiting monuments and stone memorials. It’s about remembrance, it’s about recalling the price paid for us to be free. It’s about the ones who didn’t come back.
And furthermore, it’s about more than those from wars long past, our military never stopped serving and sacrificing even when there was no war. On through today, continuing their vigil.
You see, when I was younger on that trip, I didn’t realize what was happening to me, but I was smart enough to take in the sights and enjoy getting to see those places. Now, don’t get me wrong, we were camping and eating hotdogs and marshmallows those nights on that vacation. But during the day, walking through those places, taking tours and seeing things for myself, what an experience.
I cannot put into words that would fit on this page how piercing silence can be, how suffocating it can feel. Walking through some of these memorials was like living in a colored silent picture. There was no sound at all. And I mean it. The way I remember the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, it was like the birds refused to come near it, people stopped audibly breathing, the wind stood still refusing to even flutter. The way I remember the Vietnam Wall, it wasn’t black stone, it was ice. Cold to the touch, unwavering, and everything around it slowed to a crawl. People didn’t run, they didn’t walk by briskly, glancing at the names. There, people lingered, reaching out. They sat… knelt… prayed.
It is, in every possible way, different from our daily lives.
It is, in every possible way, a sobering experience.
I took that trip about two decades ago. I know it is so different now. But even that makes me think deeper on this day of remembering. A day to reach out to those lost. I imagine, that just as I so humbly and longingly hold on to a memory of something that I had never and have never experienced, just as I cling to the feeling they gave me, so too should we cling to our memorials today, that we might remember the sacrifice.
No, this day is not about visiting a stone memorial, but it has amazed me to see how much a stone memorial can help us visit the memories and thoughts that this day is about.
HAPPY MEMORIAL DAY!