When you're on vacation, as am I this week, you inevitably bump up against other tourists. Being the old cranky, opinionated, irritable senior citizen I am, sometimes folks can just be pains. The loud kids – come on folks when I was raising my kids we had a way of taking care of that. The self-abrasive, self-important folks that want to impress everyone with their presence. You know of whom I speak. You've been on vacation, too, and those same people were part of your get-away also.
That's the way it was when my granddaughter accompanied me up the long streets of Arlington National Cemetery. Some of my classmates now rest there. I wanted to tell them I haven't forgotten.
Kids were whimpering at the long walk. I couldn't blame them. You let someone hold your hand over your head for a few hours and see if you don't start fussing. Some adults were being like kids in their bravado. It continued that way until ….
I don't know what causes it, but as people approach the Tombs of the Unknowns they get more silent. Somehow, I think it's the look on the faces of and the silence reflected in those coming down the hill from the sacred place. It gets quiet. Even those fussy kids sense a change in their parents and they become quiet, also.
There the guard marches his twenty-one paces in front of the tomb, twenty-one paces signifying a twenty-one gun salute. He then, with a snap of his heels, wheels in a ninety degree right or left face to look out over the terrain that is Arlington. He remains there for exactly twenty-one seconds, exactly, again a symbolic twenty-one gun salute. He has spent four hours getting his uniform ready for his thirty minute guard duty over the Unknown. He has vowed, because he's honored to perform this sacred duty, to never, for the rest of his life, consume any alcoholic beverage nor to ever publicly utter a profane word. His is a sacred duty; his is a noble duty; his is the highest honor that can be bestowed upon a soldier, to guard the tombs of the Unknowns.
There is silent at that tomb. The silence is only broken by the click of the heels of the Sentry. So silent is it that click of the heels echoes down into the valley. The Unknowns are not forgotten.
A foreign tourist speaks out loud. As one, all the other visitors to this sacred place turn and stare and without a spoken word the message is communicated, “No, not here. No, don't speak here. Not here; this is hallowed ground. Shhhh. This is beyond expression.” And the Sentry's heels click in an acknowledged “Amen.”
It was a long walk back down the hill from the Tomb of the Unknowns. It was a long walk. People seemed to be staring at me. Were they sensing I was moved and in that sensing being prepared to be moved? I do know the closer to the sacred spot they grew the quieter they became.
We got into the car. “Thanks for letting me visit my friends,” I told my granddaughter.
“It was special,” she said.
It was special. It was so special to know that in this skeptical, cynical world, this place of so much irreverence, there's one spot that we still consider hallowed ground.
Copyright The material on this site, unless otherwise noted, is the property of the author. Church-related use is permissible, but a small nod of the head in the direction of the author will be appreciated.