Saturday, my husband’s and son’s Boy Scout troop did an urban orienteering trip in Washington DC. My husband needed chaperones and was stressed that he wasn’t going to be able to do the trip because of his need for adults, so I stepped up.
For the longest time, I refused to be active within Boy Scouts. When I was growing up, I [mistakenly] thought my brother was my parents’ favorite, especially our father’s. My brother was a competitive soccer player and my dad was my brother’s coach. I played soccer. Not competitively. Just the average little-league version. But I dreamt about my father being my team’s coach, of him coming out and telling us what to do and leading us to victory much like how he did with my brother’s team.
Naturally, it didn’t happen. Dad was busy with Peter’s team. I wasn’t very competitive so I wasn’t a stellar soccer player. Therefore, after a couple years of playing, I stopped and Peter continued. And I spent hours at games. And practices (at least, that’s what my memory tells me). I thought that my parents’ world circled my brother. Now, as an adult, I know I was mistaken. However, that was my childhood perception.
For my husband, Boy Scouts was his life when he was a teenager. For him, it reinforced the lessons his parents were teaching him about the traits and characteristics of a good man. It gave him a place to escape, a place to learn. And, when our son had the opportunity to join Cub Scouts, well…he was signed up. And then the Cub Scout Den Leader resigned and my husband stepped up and became our son’s groups Den Leader.
And then, when it was time for Boy Scout crossover, Pat was offered to be Scoutmaster of a local troop. We spent a couple of weeks talking about it; I prayed constantly. And, in the end, Pat took over as Scoutmaster and all the boys who were in his den joined his Boy Scout troop.
But, I was worried. We have our daughter, the Girl. And I didn’t want to think that her parents lives orbited her brother’s Boy Scout troop. So I told my husband that I would support him 100%, but I was not going to be in leadership roles or any major volunteer roles so that our daughter would not feel shirked.
I lived up to that promise for years. But the Girl decided the Girls Scouts wasn’t for her and she told me that she didn’t care if I was more involved in Boy Scouts. She even said that she wanted to join but was gently told that she couldn’t. But that’s another story and I’m already off topic.
On Saturday, we went to DC and one of the “point” items was to go to Arlington Cemetery. Not a big deal for my group. We had to go anyhow because we were supposed to find the Iwo Jima Statue.
But then we learned that Saturday was the annual Wreaths Across America celebration in which volunteers would lay wreaths on the graves of all the graves in the military cemeteries.
When my group and I got off the metro train at Arlington, we were immediately swallowed by huge crowds of people. My claustrophobia started kicking me in the face and then I felt a tiny surge of panic when I saw the Anti-Terrorism-Task-Force individuals. But I swallowed my anxiety and followed the crowds as we surfaced just outside the cemetery.
As we walked along Memorial Drive and entered the sanctity of the cemetery, everything seemed to hush. I don’t remember hearing bird song although I can only imagine that the trees were populated by chickadees and other small birds. We walked up one small hill, crested it, and standing before us, stretching at least a quarter mile, was a line of people waiting to step up to the big rip and take a wreath before selecting a grave and honoring the man or woman resting beneath it.
I have never been to Arlington Cemetery. I have always been awed by its solemnity and sacredness. I wanted to go and walk amongst the line of graves, but I didn’t want to treat this hallowed ground like a tourist destination. This was a world populated by the dead, by those who paid the ultimate sacrifice in service to their country. And I wasn’t about to make it a Facebook post or a Snapchat discussion. So I have chosen not to go. Until Saturday.
And I am thankful for the long wait.
Because as we walked down the hill, along the line of people waiting for a wreath, I stared not at the beautiful spectrum of ethnicities and races of the people waiting for their turn to honor a stranger, a family member, a soldier, a spouse. I stared at the long hillside with the geometric symmetry of simple white, domed stones standing as the final tribute to someone. And there, in front, a circle of evergreen branches, a red ribbon, and possibly a person kneeling, pausing, saying loving words that were whispered to marble silence.
In the morning cold, everything stood out in sharp precision and distinction. The colors of the wreaths contrasted against the trees with their spindly branches and the blue-gray sky with clouds scuttling along the surface. Although meteorologists had promised a warm afternoon, I huddled deep in my jacket, my hands jammed into my pockets and tried so hard not to weep.
The strings of people, the simplicity of the wreaths sanctifying the tombs, the quiet hum of life juxtaposed against the stillness of death…..
Eventually, a few tears escaped. I couldn’t help it. No matter how hard I told myself that what I was seeing was lovely and beautiful and compassionate….that I had no reason to cry…
Someday, my parents will be buried in Arlington Cemetery. And I will journey there to whisper words into the cold, white marble and wish that maybe they could hear me, that maybe I could hear their voices one more time.
Next year, I will go to Arlington Cemetery and will lay a wreath on the grave of a complete stranger. Next year, I will stand in a line that stretches a quarter mile and I will wait patiently and will honor a person I have never met and will never meet.
Next year, I will stand in the cold, will jam my hands deep into my pockets and will breathe in the crisp air and stare at the long processions of people, at the long lines of the sleepers. And I will live and will thrive in the absolute peace and beauty of that moment.