It was the only place the kids had stated they really wanted to visit when we moved from overseas back to the States. So one sweltering June day, we made the trip to Washington, D.C. We did the touristy things. We visited the museums, stood outside the White House. Walked and walked. Visited the pandas at the National Zoo. Walked and walked. Took the obligatory selfies by the monuments. Walked and walked.
On our way out of town, we accidentally missed a turn (because really, it's not a family vacation until Mom and Dad engage their Let's-Pretend-We-Aren't-Upset-Voices while trying to decide who was right about the directions), and detoured to Arlington National Cemetery. It ended up being a profound detour.
Endless white crosses stretched before us, around us, encompassing us. To us silent observers, the crosses represented a group of people who had died. Yet to others, each cross was a singular: a person, an individual... a husband or wife or daughter or brother who would never share a laugh at a family cookout again, who would never hug a mother goodnight, who would never again kiss a cheek, who would never rub a dog's belly, who would never again be given the chance to love anyone.
The breadth of loss to us, the recipients of the sacrifice, was overwhelming, and it reminded us anew of the truths we conveniently forget:
We don't need to agree with the war in order to support the warrior.
We don't have to agree with the politics in order to support the person who is serving.
We don't have to be so busy persuading others about the right answers that we neglect to pray for the hearts of the broken today.
Memorial Day is about honoring those who gave all. But today, as we go about our weekend, let us also not forget those who were companions to the ones who gave all, those who question why they survived when friends fell all around, those who need acknowledgement and understanding as they navigate a new minefield now: the minefield of memories and flashbacks and rebuilding a life in a world where they often feel they do not belong.
Thank you sounds weak and thin in the face of the mighty gifts these warriors have given us. But we say it. And we say it again. And we will not forget. Today and every day.