This is the final blog post that I am writing about the father who I never knew. Since the fact of his life and death is so much a part of who I am, I suspect that our strange relationship (if you can call it that) will make an appearance someplace in the future. For now, though, I have said what needed to be said.
I was not planning on another post about my father and his family, but as I was completing the piece previous to this one, my youngest daughter was visiting the place where my father rests─ Arlington National Cemetery. Unbeknownst to me, as I was writing a couple of lines about her visit, my father’s mother was at last slipping away to join her son. Perhaps my father’s spirit guided his granddaughter through the hallowed grounds of Arlington, even as he helped lead his mother home.
Dear Alexandria and Mary Ellen,
As I write these lines this morning, Mary Ellen and your mother are visiting Arlington National Cemetery with Mary Ellen’s fifth grade class. During the course of their visit, they will be participating in a wreath laying at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier─ an incredible honor and an event that I dearly wish I could watch her see in person. They will see the other normal sights, with time to walk among the stone fathers, mothers, sons and daughters laid row on row.
You know that Arlington holds a special place in my heart. It should for all Americans, but it is personal for me because my own conversations with the man who gave me his name occurred within the confines of its sacred space. For a boy it was an honor, a sorrow, confusing and more than a bit intriguing all at the same time.
As I think of Mary Ellen standing silently surrounded by the granite sentinels, it occurs to me that I will soon be twenty years older than my father is eternally. That is an amazing and disorienting thought.
Life isn’t like a book or a movie. In the story telling mediums, the storyteller weaves the context dexterously in the beginning in order to guide the reader or viewer where their mind and emotions should go. In life, experience happens often without context. What comes after a thing or set of events often lends the context that leads to the proper perspective.
I had both the burden and the honor as a child to walk on Arlington’s dewy grass and ponder the names on the stones. What was intriguing then has, with passing years, faith and experience, become sublime. It is years of forming a context around those visits which lead to thoughts that bring me back to the stones, fresh cut grass, fragrant flowering trees and azaleas of my youth. Those thoughts guide me prayerfully to a place of desiring nothing but love and peace. Arlington is a beautiful place, but it would be so much more so if we could stop adding residents to its ranks.
If we must continue to add to the regiments of the fallen, let it be in pursuit of peace. May the Lord grant you girls the wisdom to understand that there must be nobility and compassion in the fight; otherwise the fight is not worth fighting. I hope, many years from now when you are perhaps writing to your children, that you will hold up the mirror to your own generation and be proud of what you see.
This morning my child walks through the most sacred space I know. In spirit, I am walking with her. I know my father walks along side as well. Mary Ellen, I hope you come away from that place with the same sense of gratitude and compassion that I know. Perhaps the good that comes from my father’s absence is that I am able, through that experience, to plant a seed of peace within you. With that knowledge, maybe you girls can help your generation to understand that the base alloy of freedom is the preservation of sacred life. Above all things, I pray that you know peace.