Though I’ve visited Arlington National Cemetery countless times since I was a kid, it’s a place that can’t fail to move you. From the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns to the even rows of tombstones stretching into the horizon, Arlington makes an impression on the psyche. Starkly, clearly, it symbolizes sacrifice.
But it’s not a depressing place. A cold place. More than 4 million people visit Arlington annually, and the famous cemetery? Well, it’s always busy. Children toddle along the pathways, clutching the hands of sweaty parents; tourists flock around statues, photographing stones and tree-lined paths. Eighth-graders in matching T-shirts board trams with their “I ❤ D.C." bags, shushed by harried chaperones.
And the views! As I'm often there with our photo tours, who can overlook the views? Climbing to Arlington House, once the home of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, the city of Washington stretches out spectacularly. City architect Pierre L’Enfant is buried there on the hill overlooking his vision. Winding up the paths away from the Eternal Flame still burning for President Kennedy, you may find yourself . . . alone.
But not really alone.
For a large stretch of land serving as the final resting place for some of our nation’s brave women and men, it’s really a place that celebrates life. I feel humbled, small, when visiting . . . but not sad, somehow. Reflective, maybe? Pensive?
And tired, too. It’s huge.
I’ll never see it all.
But we’ll keep trying.