To be “humbled” is a phrase I have heard many times and have actually used in the past, but sitting down to contemplate the meaning behind it threw me for a loop. In my search for an answer, I came up with my own definition, which I once described as the feeling you get when you see someone not as well off as yourself and you’re grateful for the blessings in your life. I thought that was pretty good. A more formal definition as written in the dictionary describes it as: low or inferior in station or quality; or marked by meekness or modesty; not arrogant or prideful. However, I recently learned that the meaning can only be defined after you’ve truly been humbled. The meaning, even though not sought, smacked me in the face and the heart the day I visited another of my favorite places; a place where you are allowed to stand in the presence of true greatness, honor and ultimate sacrifice; a place where without its existence my original definition of humbled would not hold water because our freedom is one of our very many blessings; a place known as Arlington National Cemetery.
Washington D.C. was another destination on my list that I may have never visited just to visit. When I think of vacation I think of sun, beaches, ocean and margaritas. I was also not the history buff in high school and I actually now learn more from my friend, Jodi the teacher, than I ever did from taking notes in class. Needless to say, although heading to the Capitol was a very intriguing idea in theory, getting a tan and relaxing by the pool was more my style getaway. Pretty shallow when I look back on it and I sure am glad I turned a dog-sitting job into a reason to experience a place of silent pride and adoration.
After agreeing to tag along for a trip out east to watch the most adorable dog ever (other than my Shelby, of course), we decided to make the most of it and pull our tourist card. It was going to be a jam-packed weekend and I started to really look forward to it when we landed at DCA airport. First on our list of destinations was a long walk with the Dman (Dduger the dog), but after we were settled in, we decided to tempt our fate on the Metro and hit up the National Mall. For those that don’t know the lingo, which I will shamefully admit that I did not, the National Mall is the acres and acres of property that display our most treasured memorials and monuments, pretty much the backbone of the United States.
Walking and utilizing the trolley system, we traveled to and from the enormous statues, buildings, waterfalls and words of wisdom etched in concrete, proud; proud to live in a place where the freedom to walk the grounds of our fallen soldiers and leaders is embraced; even more so proud to know that my father served in the war forever unforgotten by a wall that stretches to an unfathomable length. It was a pretty incredible adventure through history that will be with me always. I didn’t think my opinion about taking a history lesson vacation could be any more changed than it was after that day, until the moment I stepped onto the grounds of Arlington.
I was humbled. The force of what the cemetery stood for was hard not to feel the instant you looked out toward the white stones perfectly aligned no matter which way you faced. It was a beautiful day, the sun was shining, the heat was sweltering, but it didn’t matter. Walking on the black tar to the various memorials marked by large concrete structures, an eternal flame or an elaborate stone inscribed with the names of those fallen before us, in the name of us, we were speechless. Surrounded by people, but never feeling crowded, we slowly strolled along the paths only speaking when necessary. It was awe inspiring, every bit, but the truly most unforgettable moments hit me twice. Once when we passed a grieving widow, mother or friend who shared in the sacrifice that their loved one chose to embark, and once when we witnessed the incredible strength and honor of the Changing of the Guard whose duty it was to protect the tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
The backdrop was an immaculately kept tranquil garden which put the crowd of people instinctively at rest, and the emotion was raw and real. It was quiet enough to hear a pin drop. A number of spectators watched in silence as a soldier, a mother’s son, dressed in full military uniform, in the blistering heat, strategically passed the honor of his position and the honor of his country to another with pride, dignity and respect. Time stopped just for a moment, my heart raced and it was difficult to hold back the tears as this young person pronounced his dedication faithfully to the unknown – unknown by name, but famous by strength, honor and the fight for our freedom. As I witnessed this incredible sight that defined the men and women who stand and march through all possible means with their heads held high, never to waiver, never to complain and always with pride, I was humbled.
After taking in whatever we could, I left Arlington National Cemetery changed. I was never more appreciative to be an American than I have ever been, more proud to call the men and woman who sacrifice their time, families and lives my heroes.
Every day when we wake to our alarm clocks to start our day we should be thankful. Thankful that we can kiss our kids good morning, thankful that the job we may or may not like is waiting for us at the end of a long commute, thankful that the people we love are right beside us or a phone call away, thankful that the quiet exists. Our freedoms can only be attributed to those who sacrifice their own, those who fight without question and those who stand guard with nothing but faith, faith that their courage will not be remembered in vain.
We are gifted with the blessing of our voice because they lie silent…
Thank you just doesn’t seem like enough.