It was cold. I knew it was because I could see my breath in front of me and feel my legs shiver, but I couldn’t feel it hit my chest. For now, the cold was absent to me. There was no room to feel cold when I was full of feelings I couldn’t put into words, feelings unbeknown to me. I knew I had tears in my eyes but I didn’t reach to wipe them away because for now, they belonged there. Tears belong in a place that is simultaneously full of loss and hope, a place meant for crying. I knew that American history was a distant subject to me, something that only existed in books but was never visual, always too far away to be seen or felt. But for now, I could finally feel it.
I looked at the gravesite of a president who could have been, a father who could have been, a leader who could have been but wasn’t for nearly long enough. The flame flickered, as if it too felt tired, but could never go out – it has too big a burden to bear. The engraving read “John Fitzgerald Kennedy” but said much more – told a story of tragedy, a story of loss and longing, and of sentences that ended too soon. A story of unity and overcoming, the loss of a president but the strength of a nation.
Hills. Hills and hills and hills covered with marble, each bearing a name as a testament to tragedy and grief. What appears as marble shows a brother, a husband, a person – a mother who once cried over that marble because it was what she had now in place of her son. The walk is solemn, and snow begins to fall. It disappears on the asphalt, but I still know what it used to be. The white dust absorbs all sound, and for that time we exist in silence. The solemness of what we bear witness too absorbs the noise of our day, absorbs the noise of a city of life, absorbs the noise of our thoughts. And we walk, surrounded by people who now stand forever in marble. Surrounded by people who fought for what they believed in – who fought for what we all believed in – who fought so that I could stand here. Surrounded by stories. Surrounded by heroes.
The Guard stands. His face is emotionless, but he is weighted down by the power of the role bestowed upon him. Click. He turns and faces another Guard. Click. They approach each other, perfect synchronization, and begin their paces. Click. They stop and turn, face to face at last. Behind them stands a tomb. It cannot bear a name, for its names are many. Its names are unknown. Known but to God. But it resembles what we all know – that what surrounds us is bigger than a name. Click. One guard exits. Click. One stands alone. Click. He begins his paces, silent, solemn, strong, powerful, proud, ready. He is ready. Ready to bear this honor.
The snow falls harder, flakes that land on your eyelashes but don’t register. Peaceful snow. Snow that seems to know that it has to be quiet here. Children do not cry out, as though they can feel that this place is for the quiet type of crying. The type of crying that isn’t happy or sad. The type of crying that says thank you. The type of crying that finally understands sacrifice – finally understands pride. The type of crying that makes you realize why you read all those history books, and why you walked into a voting booth. Why you can speak or write or protest. Crying because you finally understand the value of freedom… the burden of freedom. The first time you ever cried at a cemetery.
We get back on the metro. We get back to our apartments. We get back into our beds. Still, I fell full. Full of a feeling that is bigger than a word but small enough to fit into my chest. My small town a thousand miles away has never touched what I just witnessed. The teachers at school could never teach what I just saw. And the cold hasn’t caught up to me yet. The noise hasn’t caught up to me yet – the silence lies in the snow outside. The snow at Arlington.