Minnewaska Musings

By Paul Gremmels

If you fly into Washington D.C., you will make your final decent from the west, along the Potomac River, on what pilots call “The River Approach.” Off to the port (left) side will be the iconic monuments of our Nation’s Capitol. The captain will usually alert you to this. On the starboard (right) side however, will be a vast, lush and sparsely wooded meadow amidst the dense urban sprawl. The meadow is covered with what appear to be thousands of small white dots in perfect columns. The dots are tombstones and this, is Arlington National Cemetery.

    Just before our seats and trays were put into their upright positions, I had finished reading a magazine survey of a few Americans as to what Memorial Day meant to them. The responses talked of veteran family members and friends, traditions, visiting gravesites and honorary services. Then, there was this little girl from Atlanta. When asked what Memorial Day meant to her, she answered in animated exuberance – “That’s the day the pools open!”

I flew into D.C. to visit my Uncle and friends that rest peacefully in the ground of Arlington. While there, I met a lady that sat alone on a lawn chair, keeping a solitary watch over a gravestone amidst rank upon rank of other stones. We struck up a conversation and I told her of what brought me to this place. She expressed her condolences and then told me of whom she mourned and who he was to her. We embraced. Two strangers brought together by grief and loss.

I think of that lady and of that moment often enough. I also think of that little girl from Atlanta. At first, like most of us, I was aghast when I read how she reveled in the fact that the pools would open on Memorial Day weekend. I thought that more should be done to educate our youth on the significance of The Day, but time and losses have caused me to rethink my opinions.

You see, if we are truly doomed to repeat our history, that little girl and her generation could easily become veterans of wars and conflicts not yet imagined. They very well could lose family, friends and loved ones here or in far off foreign lands. They could harbor horrific images forever beyond those terrible and difficult, unforeseen times. So maybe we should allow that little girl a time of innocence; for her to be excited about playing at the pool during a time that many of us spend mourning our dead. As we all know, that little girl will come of age soon enough and she will come to understand the somber nature of Memorial Day.

I have often hoped that the lady I met at Arlington had a good, peaceful, fun-filled childhood. It would give her fond memories to balance against the dark ones. It would help to prepare her and steel her for sitting alone, day after day, in a lawn chair amidst a garden of stones, mourning the death of her only son.