That time of year again

Todd Van Beck's picture

Georgia and I just returned from participating in the Wreath Across American ceremony and activities at Arlington National Cemetery.

As I pondered this moving event I could not help but be reminded of the tremendous sacrifice that so many people have made so that I could possess the freedom to even pen these words.

I have always loved history, and particularly presidential history.  It is true all one has to do is study the lives and times of the United States presidents and at the same time one is studying the history of this great country.

As we walked the miles upon miles of roads in Arlington, I was not surprised in the least that the gravesites of the Kennedy brothers attracted a tremendous amount of attention.  Who can resist the “Eternal Flame” and the symbolism and story behind that American icon of freedom and the high price freedom exacts.

Thousands upon thousands of wreaths were laid on one gravestone after another.  In fact I was told that this year the Wreaths Across America program laid out more wreaths than they have ever done in their history.  This is good stuff to be sure.

However I was struck by the observation that here and there some gravestones did not have a wreath.  The monument that did not have a wreath which struck me the most was the impressive monument of another president of the United States, William Howard Taft.  There is no question that Taft was a tad out of place as president (he was by nature a jurist), but he was nonetheless a great American who holds the distinction as being the only American in history to hold the two highest offices in the U.S. government – namely president of the United States, and chief justice of the United States Supreme Court.

Close to Taft’s gravesite was yet another significant American whose grave had no wreath.  That person was Robert Todd Lincoln, who was the eldest son of Abraham Lincoln.

While it is true that in Arlington National Cemetery there is great evidence of what I call the democracy of death – in other words no one grave ranks higher than any other – it also seemed appropriate to take a moment to lay wreaths on the graves of these two Americans who both had contributed so much to the building of this country, but whose memories have faded with the veil of time in the history books. 

What does the ritualistic exercise of memorializing our dead accomplish?  I believe that ritualizing our dead accomplished two personal assets and attainments which are priceless to the betterment of the human spirit.  First, it gives a person peace of mind, and second, it give a person the feeling that they have done the right thing.

I know when I saw the graves of both President Taft and the son of the Great Emancipator without a wreath it gave me peace of mind, and a feeling of doing the right thing, when I laid those two beautiful, simple wreaths on these two men’s final resting places.

As I got on the plane to fly home, I had a warm feeling inside, and once again the magic of ritualization, the unexplainable significance of simple wreath laying, had worked. 

Such it is with ceremony: It is priceless and so effective to help us embrace things in our hearts and souls when mere words fail, and I did not say one word when I positioned those two evergreen wreaths.

Anyway, that is it for this old undertaker.  TVB