Monday, May 29, 2017

The Silence of Remembering

The details of my first visit to the Tomb of the Unknown soldier at Arlington National Cemetery are permanently etched in my mind. My family and I were on a sight-seeing vacation to Washington, DC and I was a just entering my teen years. I was at that age - you know the one - the age when my knowledge of the mysteries of  life far surpassed that  of my parents, or any other authority figure, or so I thought. The age when the future lay ahead and sitting around remembering the things of the past seemed like a colossal waste of my adolescent time.

It was a steamy, sunny day as we made our way to the Tomb. Away from the city noise of D.C., the first thing I noticed at the Tomb was the silence. This was no ordinary silence. It was a silence filled with solemnity, with ritual and with sadness. We stood and watched the military guard, dressed from head to toe in the most pristine uniform, sweat dripping from his brow, his jaw set and his eyes fixed forward. He marched back and forth, back and forth, back and forth in a mesmerizing rhythm before the tomb of his fallen brothers.

After a what seemed like an eternity of silent watching, we witnessed the ceremony of the changing of the guard - a ceremony, I later learned, which takes place around the clock, day and night, rain or shine, no matter who is or isn't watching. The guards, it occurred to me, are not putting on a show for the sake of the grumpy teenage tourist and her family. They are about something far greater.

In the silence and rhythmic repetition of the Tomb Guard's walk, my own adolescent brain, seemingly hard-wired for noisy activity, had the time to stop and reflect on what was really happening in front of my eyes. Here I beheld a soldier, who saw it as his greatest privilege to stand guard over the grave of fallen soldiers whom he had never met, indeed, whose names he would never know.

He walked the guard shift as a way of honoring those who had given their lives so that he could have the privilege of standing guard over their graves in silence and freedom. He walked the guard shift as a way of consoling the parents who never had the opportunity to bury their sons and daughters. He walked the guard shift as a promise that the memory of those who have died for us would never be lost in the noise of everyday life. He walked the guard shift as a way of offering his life to honor those who had offered theirs.

Our nation dedicates two days each year to remember those who have served our great country in the military: Veterans' Day and Memorial Day.  Memorial Day is uniquely dedicated to honor the memory of those who made the ultimate sacrifice of their lives in service to our county, while Veteran's Day honors all those who have served in the Armed Forces. For the Tomb Guard - each day of the year is a day to honor our veterans.  Let us all join the watch of the Tomb Guard in silent remembering of those who have given everything for us, the friends whose names they never knew. .

Read more about the life of a Tomb Guard here.