"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)


peace all over arlington

Arlington on Memorial Day is probably not a place you want to be. The entrance and visitors' center are total chaos; thousands of tourists and soldiers and boy scouts milling about, trying to find the Kennedys' eternal flames or the Lee house or the Tour Mobile that will get them there. If you're extra unfortunate, as I was, you'll arrive while the president is on-site to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown, meaning that tons of extra security personnel make you walk on the grass and that tourist after tourist after tourist waits to catch a glimpse of the presidential motorcade.

Yesterday morning, I went over to Arlington to pay respects to a friend who died five years ago next week. I'll write more about him on the anniversary, as he was a remarkable person. After dealing with the aforementioned total chaos, I got out to the part of the cemetery where you only go if you know someone who's died. It's quiet there, after the turnoff to the Tomb of the Unknowns and all the other sites. People who walk or drive back there greet one another with knowing nods, and an understanding that these visits are not about checking off another item on the siteseeing list. I even ran into a friend from Austin, there to visit his father-in-law's grave. It's quiet there, and even hauntingly lovely in its own way.

But the events of Memorial Day and the president's presence intruded on that quiet, for better or for worse, with the 21-gun salute. We were too far away to hear taps, down the hill, each alone with our private griefs.

It's no secret that I'm not a fan of this president, but I wonder if he knows what it's like for those people who are at Arlington on a beautiful Monday morning in May. I wonder if he ever thinks about the father I saw standing alone before a grave, his face covered in tears. I wonder if he sees the family out to decorate the tombstone of a son or daughter who'll never be with them for holidays again. I wonder what he would say to the young mother out there with her two children, her daughter carrying two yellow roses for her daddy's grave.

If there's one thing of which Arlington should remind us, it's that war is a terrible thing. It has a cost. That cost is high, and the sacrifices are great. Which is why we should only send our children to war when we have no other bad options left. Otherwise, the cost is too much to bear.


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