One solemn guard proceeded on the well-trodden 21-step march in front of the tomb. The clock was striking three o’clock, and the sound reverberated off the surrounding marble as silence fell. A baby gave a cry. My cousin leaned over to me and whispered, “Eerie.”
There was something eerie about it, but also something beautiful, hushed, a kind of respectful awe that pervades a sacred place. This place is sometimes called “our Nation’s Most Sacred Shrine”—Arlington National Cemetery.
Here is the place where rest those who have given the last full measure of devotion to the protection of a country worth defending. Here a ground consecrated by blood, sweat, and tears, here the bones of men who carried a nation to victory on their backs, spurred by the fire of patriotic allegiance. From the greatest of men to the humblest, all now are equal.
These hallowed grounds draw some three million visitors each year, many of whom flock to witness the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. They gather for the history, the renown, for the memory of the fallen. They assemble to witness the famed and sacred ritual in honor of the soldiers known but to God.
Our country is losing such rituals, such attention to sacred details. There are other sacred shrines in this country, but this cemetery, this ground hallowed by the sacrifices of dead patriots, is the most sacred. Many religious ceremonies still maintain a level of liturgy, but the state has forsaken public liturgy and replaced it with an informality that trivializes sacrifice. Perhaps this is why Arlington draws such crowds, because tourists see such things that have become unknown in the life of the nation.
The crowds gather before the hour strikes, witness the ceremony, and leave before the new guard takes even one march. Rather than accepting the challenge, “Could you not spend one hour with me?” as have the soldiers who guard the tomb for their hour-long shifts, tourists spend the bare amount of time seeing the “exciting” parts, and then they depart.
The demands of schedules, of young children, or perhaps of a sense of emotional overwhelmedness press-out lingering. Yet should contemplation of sacrifice be only transient? Are there ways that, in our daily lives, we can ponder why we live in the freedom we enjoy?
If only such beautiful liturgy could be reintroduced to daily life. Americans should meditate on the sacrifices that have made freedom possible, and remember that the work of the dead is not finished, but advanced. We must be dedicated to the furthering of such work. We should allow beauty to permeate the soul, whether it be in the form of artwork, music, or prayer. And we should put ourselves in the state of mind to receive such beauty, and allow the blessings that have been passed down from our ancestors to elevate our minds to a greater purpose. If only such reverence would be given not only to the dead, but to the Creator of the living and Reviver the dead. If only we would have the patience and the mindset to witness and enter fully into the entirety of sacred ritual, and, along with the guard, spend one hour on the hallowed grounds to revere the hallowed, unknown name.