The white marble sat frozen, cold. Green grass grew evenly around straight rows of precise lines of stone. They had names, and dates etched and engraved. But the stories were missing. Marked somewhere else; maybe in the kitchen of his mom, broken heart of a wife, a forgotten friend left waiting. I wondered if the straight rows and meticulous care echoed enough remorse for the debt. I walked, and in silence the sun reddened my cheeks. The smiles settled on faces of other visitors, but only subtly inched up toward eyes. I remember my friends who lived in Washington D.C. telling me they loved Arlington. In fact, Sunday walks and time alone often accompanied them to this cemetery. The cemetery alive with people.
I have no stories about veterans. I have no written record of a war fought, survived, destroyed, or won. I have not had to barter, beg, reach, stretch or pray for safe returns. I have not had a soldier return a stranger and struggle to reconcile lives.
I have seen pictures of my grandpa in uniform, and have heard his daughter say he would not speak of days across the ocean. He left us no stories, she would say. I have watched on TV, like you, the returns and departures, a tidal wave of fatigues enter and leave bases and planes with tears, kisses, smiles.
And I always wonder what they’re thinking. Is it worth it? Do they feel pride? The sacrifice and commitment, wins and losses are entangled in the personal stories. From the mouths of soldiers. How do they tell their stories? Can words work? I find it interesting that many soldiers from WWI and WWII used poetry. Prose in short phrases to try and connect meaning. To ground shards and fragments to roots.
Soldiers like Rupert Brooke. He was a soldier in WWI and died of dysentery on a ship in 1915. His poem is known as one of the most famous to come out of WWI.
If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s a some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England’s breathing English air
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.
What do you think of Brooke’s words? How has your life been personally affected by wars, or soldiers’, sacrifices? How do you show gratitude for others’ dedication?