"--But in a sense we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men living and dead who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract"
---Lincoln's Gettysburg Address
Sometimes, you just have to be there.
To stand in front of the house your grandparents lived in, or to walk the fields or streets where your ancestors had their beginnings. We often think about the old neighborhood or old school and want to go there again.
Being there, the memories come back as fresh as yesterday. Something about familiar places and spaces helps us recall memories we thought we had forgotten.
These are personal places for us, personal triumphs, tragedies and the ordinary everydayness, unremarked upon and uncared about perhaps, except to you and yours.
The Need to Honor
And then there are universally honored places--places acknowledged by most as being a special place to remember. We go to cities where history has taken place, walk through buildings where great or famous people lived. We walk the battlefields of Gettysburg , Omaha Beach. We come to stand at Ground Zero.
But why must we go? Photographs would do the job -in fact, we would see greater detail through the camera's eye than we could see for ourselves. Vantage points, angles, shadings, inaccessible ledges and views are what a camera and a good photographer are all about-to show you what might not have been seen by the average eye. Even so, we feel the need to "be there."
My Father's Grave
And more than anything we need to "be there" at cemeteries. I had never been to my father's grave in Florida's National Cemetery in Bushnell, Florida. I promised myself to go but that had been put off for a long time.
Last spring I finally put Dad on my "to do" list. I had not expected to be moved by finding his grave, because I had never known him well. There weren't a lot of memories to bring tears, I thought.
I was unprepared for the beauty of the place. Unprepared for the immaculate white tombstones, all neatly named and numbered, the lush greenness of grass trimmed neatly as with a barber's shears. All quiet, except for the throaty song of a bird in a tree.
And totally unprepared for the emotion I felt when I saw his name etched in white stone. My dad, a guy I hardly knew, a face in a little photo, holding a little me. Lost his eye, lost his wife, lost his kid.
His was only one story in a million other stories, and now here with all the others- at peace. Full sun, clear skies, and white stones shining. Rows and rows of veterans in final formation.
You Had To Be There
I wanted to tell my kids how it had affected me, but words wouldn't come. All I could produce was the photo of his stone, with me kneeling beside it-- the stone that bears their grandfather's name. "I guess you had to be there," one said, handing the photo back to me, and he was right.
We DO have to be there. We have to stand amid the stones that stretch out and away at Gettysburg, Flanders Field, The Punchbowl, Arlington. We need to stand for a few minutes in silence and in the silence.
They will know we come to honor them and to remember. Then we can go off to our cookouts and races and beaches.
But first, we must come to those places with the stones. We have to be there. We have to stand on Hallowed Ground.