My husband and I live in Alberta, Canada. We are landlocked; mountains to the west, prairies to the east, the Territories to the north, and Montana to the south. However, I was born and raised in Newfoundland so I have this inate desire to be on or near the water. My husband is of Norwegian heritage…thus his need to be, as well.
We decided several years ago that we want to live on a sailboat in our retirement years and have been proactive toward that goal; several sailing magazine subscriptions, internet searches and research, and this past weekend…our third major sailboat show.
We purchased two “Take the Wheel” tickets for the United States Sailboat Show in Annapolis, Maryland…or Anna-nopolis, as my husband likes to call it (he embarasses me at times). These tickets gave us access to morning breakfast, a seminar on the joys of sailing, lunch, and then the afternoon out test driving two different sailboats around Chesapeake Bay, as well as an additional day of access to the hundreds of sailboats and supplier booths on display around the harbour.
The time on the water, being allowed to take the helm, completely reinforced our desire to sail and set our plans in concrete. The sailboat show was amazing, but I booked our trip for five days, so knowing that we had a couple of extra days to spare, I booked a hotel in Arlington, Virginia…just across the river from Washington, DC.
AND A CEMETERY
My husband and I are also former morticians. I spent the greater part of the last dozen years in too many cemeteries. Every death and burial was sad…or very tragic, in some cases. Funeral directors, for the most part, are able to emotionally separate themselves from the grief all around them so we can be effective “undertakers” for the family…doing the tedious work they should never have to do. But there have been times both my husband and I have had to turn away to wipe tears from our eyes in the middle of a service.
All of those years in my profession could not have prepared me for the emotional floodgate I experienced on our visit last Sunday to Arlington Cemetery. Over 400,000 military (and their families) are buried in this sacred place, each plot marked by simple but elegant white marble headstones, meticulously placed in perfect symetry (with the exception of private stones in the older section).
We entered the cemtery from a smaller entrance to the west and two minutes into the cemetery we heard something out of place, looked to the sky, and were astonished to see over a dozen warplanes in perfect formation flying directly overhead. I took my phone, grabbed a video, and immediately began to cry. Where that came from, I don’t know, but that was the beginning of a very emotional day.
We walked through a large section of the cemetery to the main entrance where we decided we would purchase tour tickets. We stopped at the Kennedy’s grave sites…John, with his beloved Jackie at his left-hand side, and two brothers’ off to his right whose resting places were marked with simple white crosses.
We also stopped at several other notable memorials including the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which was being guarded around the clock, every day of the year.
My husband and I were at the very front of the crowd and watched as the Guard, in very precise military fashion, walk 21 steps back and forth, presenting arms at each end (and at one point, turning to the crowd to remind us to remain quiet and respectful) for 45 minutes when we witnessed the much awaited “changing of the guard”. PLEASE do yourself a favor and google this on Youtube. Words cannnot explain the mesmerizing, mechanical (almost unreal) movements of these guards.
The changing of the guard alone brought tears to my eyes, but it was in noticing the older couple right beside us, who wiped tears away the whole time, that moved me the most. Their grief was palpable…and real. I don’t know for sure why they were so sad (I assumed they lost someone dear to them during military duty), but I’ve seen that grief before…many times.
The historic stories of tragedy that are buried with the dead in that cemetery will always be extremely important, but it is the living…those who are feeling the loss in realtime that mean the most; we cannot change the past, but we can offer a knowing smile, a hand on a shoulder, or a heartfelt hug…things that can change their reality…even if just for a moment. Then we can give thanks (it was Canadian Thanksgiving weekend, afterall) for all of our loved ones and the lives we are fortunate to have, and continue on to make the most of those lives…and make plans to live on a sailboat.