Playdates with God: Arlington

On Father’s Day, we spend the morning walking among the dead.
It’s the last thing we plan to do before we head back home from D.C. and we make a wrong turn and have to loop all the way around the city again and our legs are tired and sore from walking all over the city for two days and Jeff and I have not had any coffee yet because of a debacle with cream and the boys aren’t really sure about the appeal of a cemetery.
But when we fall in with the other visitors and get our first glimpse of that sea of 624 acres of white stones…it stops us all where we stand. We are on sacred ground and when Jeff bends to slip off his shoe to extract a pebble hidden there, I thinkshouldn’t we all? I have an urge to slip off my shoes and ease behind this little chain fence and fall to my knees between these markers.
Freedom is not freesaid an inscription on the Korean War Veterans Memorial we saw yesterday and I feel the weight of the cost in these headstones undulating over this land. I tell the boys a little of the history—how Robert E. Lee married into this land but lost it during the Civil War. We eavesdrop on the tour guides and their groups as we walk by.
We drift through the grounds, tired and quiet, our calves aching as we wind upward. We see the eternal flame, shake our heads at the shame of it all. We continue walking past all these sleeping ones and I can’t help wondering about them.
There are fathers buried here. And mothers. Daughters and sons. Real people who were wept over and missed. 
We stroll through the amphitheater where all that light makes me squint. It’s breathtakingly beautiful and I can hear the robins in the trees through these marble columns. I feel my blood slow and I wonder how many grieving souls have found comfort here. Behind the amphitheater is The Tomb of the Unknowns and we arrive just in time to watch the changing of the guard. We marvel at the precision of each step and I wonder aloud how long these men train for this privilege. 
On the way back down Jeffrey is struggling with it all. Why do they do this, he wants to know. What does it mean?
I tell him more about the tomb.
The soldiers buried here represent all of those who gave their lives, I say. So many die who are never found. So many unable to be identified…this is our way of saying they are not forgotten. God knows who they are. This tomb helps us remember.
He has seen a lot of hard things on this trip and he is quiet. I watch him run to catch his brother and his father. His dad turns to him with a smile and though I can’t hear what they say, my heart twists with love.
I think of all the fathers and sons buried here. I think of the unknown, the unnamed entombed on the hill. And I wonder—if one lost soldier represents many…what does one living father represent? And me too—this weak mother—where does my parenting point? If my days with my children don’t point to the One Perfect Parent, what do they point to?
I give thanks for all these parents buried here as I watch my children with their father. I give thanks for the good example their father gives and pray for strength in our weaknesses. There are so many. There’s nothing like a few days cooped up in a tiny hotel room with two growing boys to bring that to light.
I’m standing under a canopy of oak and maple tree witnesses and I wonder how many tears their roots have been watered by. A tiny squirrel bounds across my path and those three people I love more than anyone are getting further away from me.
So I give thanks for Grace. And then I run to catch up.
How do you embrace the God-joy? Every Monday I’ll be sharing one of my Playdates with God. I would love to hear about yours. It can be anything: outside, quiet time. Maybe it’s solitary. Maybe it’s loud and crowded. Just find Him. Be with Him. Grab my button at the bottom of the page and join us:

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  1. says

    When we went, and the chain fence stopped us from reading the names on the stones, I was disappointed because those stones are like chapters in a History book that need to be read over and over and their names not forgotten.

    What an amazing Father’s Day!

  2. says

    You really captured the feeling of vastness, of enormity that the sheer numbers and the extent of individual sacrifices make in this place, and of the solemn call upon our lives as parents. Moving and beautiful, it leaves me stopped in silent thought. Thank you.

  3. says

    This is such a touching post. Arlington is one of the places I hope to visit someday and I imagine would react the same has you have. Have you read Mrs. Robert E. Lee? It is a beautiful biography about a beautiful woman. I was especially impacted by her side of Arlington’s story.

  4. says

    We did the Washington DC trip with our kids a few years ago on a hot summer day. We were sweaty and exhausted after trapsing around but it was so worth it. The life of one good example can impact countless. That is what I took away from this story and it’s where I am living right now. Sounds like you had a wonderful visit.

  5. says

    Powerful reflection. I visited my father’s grave a few weeks ago – don’t get there very often since I don’t live there anymore. Fathers Day is always poignant for me – full of memories. But as I read your post I was overwhelmed by all the fathers gone. What legacies, stories and love they left. Thank you for a new perspective this morning

  6. says

    You told this beautifully…as always:) We too got to see the changing of the guard and they were also having a ceremony with a family…it was almost more than my emotions could handle.
    Thanks for sharing this wonder perspective. blessings~

  7. says

    What a beautiful day. The rows of white stones marking the names of countless fathers, families, the lists of names, the view of your boy running ahead, trying to take it all in. What powerful words. Yes, I echo what Sylvia R says . . . Thank you.

  8. says

    Thank you for this. What a meaningful, thought-provoking thing to do together on Father’s Day. It would be so sobering to view all the grave markers, and to think of all the sacrifice. Thank you for sharing this through your beautiful photos.

  9. says

    *tears* Thank you for this, Laura.

    I’ve been to Arlington several times, but the last was when the ashes of both of my dear, dear parents (WWII veterans) were inurned there – an experience I’ll obviously never forget. I long to return to those sacred grounds and make rubbing of their names engraved.

  10. says

    Thank you for taking me to Arlington, a place I’ve never been. And thank you for a gracious tribute to the grandfathers, fathers and sons, and now some moms, who rest there.

  11. says

    Full of weaknesses, and desiring to point to the Perfect Parent– oh how I can identify. 🙂 “What does one living father represent?” So much to ponder over that question. Such a lovely and reflective post.

  12. says

    What a wonderful experience and teachable moment with your son. Thanks for reminding us of the many sacrifices made–a perfect Father’s Day reminder, Laura!

  13. says

    I have been to Arlington several times on school trips with graduating seniors. One of the most memorable was when we placed the wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown soldier in the pouring rain — everyone drenched. The soldiers were so impressed with the kids’ dedication, that they allowed them a tour of their living quarters and stopped to chat with them there. A great memory. — I also saw President Bush give a speech there one Memorial Day weekend. It’s a beautiful place, rich with history.

  14. says

    My father, as you know, is buried at Arlington, as are other men I knew, some from Vietnam, where my eldest brother served. No one can walk there and not be moved. Or leave with so many questions unanswered.

    Wish I had known you were in town. I live just minutes away.

  15. says

    It is a sobering, heartbreaking place Laura.
    I remember a day in Normandy, watching my Dad place roses on the tombs of men who were his comrades – his friends. They are forever young, and I watched my elderly father bend to place the roses.
    I am so thankful for them and for the priceless blessing of having my father come home.
    This is touching and beautiful Laura.

  16. says

    Laura, dear, I love your heart and sensitivity. I’m happy for you that your trip was fruitful (spiritually) as well as in real-life. May the inspiration you’ve been given, flower and grow.

    “May blessings and peace be yours, sent to you from God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Eph. 1:2)

  17. says

    Real people are here.. yes, sometimes we forget there are stories behind the stones. Thanks for inviting me to walk through such an amazing place with you. I’m blessed to have “joined’ you.

  18. says

    If I’m ever fortunate enough to sit down with you for coffee, I will tell you my Arlington story.

    This post of yours, there with your man and your boys? It brings it all right back.

    Thank you.

  19. says

    You honor such a sacred place and purpose with these words and photos. It’s humbling to be there. Your ending is especially poignant. How many tears have watered the roots? All beautiful, Laura.

  20. says

    I read your words and remembered how I felt when I visited the USS Arizona Memorial. I stood next to my brother, who was stationed in Hawaii, at the time,and–reading the names on the wall–I thought w/ horror: they had sisters. It’s a hard thing. You were relatively near me on your trip (I live just west of Richmond!), but I was in Pittsburgh. Happy Fathers Day to the amazing men who help us in raising our children (red-headed and otherwise).

  21. says

    It does give one pause to see the grave markers all the way to the horizon, doesn’t it? On my 8th grade school trip to D.C., our group had the privilege of presenting a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns. I had forgotten that until reading this.

    Quietly hoping with you in the Resurrection. None are unknown to Christ.

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