In a bit of serendipitous timing, I found myself in the nation’s capital last week. With Memorial Day looming, I took the time to spend several hours in Arlington National Cemetery, reflecting on the terrible price that liberty collects from each generation of Americans.
There are over 400,000 men and women buried in Arlington. To walk among the dead is to walk through our nation’s history of bloody sacrifice for the cause of liberty. After paying my respects to two family members near the McClellan Gate, I walked through every section. The dignity and respect of the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier set an example that we should all follow when honoring our heroes.
While some parts of the cemetery were loud with swarms of schoolchildren on their year-end field trips, some areas were peaceful, as one would imagine eternity to be. The silent Argonne Cross standing watch over our fallen heroes of World War I; the crypt at the top of the hill where 2,111 unknown Union soldiers gathered after the Civil War in northern Virginia; the silence of the stones for those killed battling communism in Vietnam was only disturbed by the whir of the electric wheelchair of one of their brothers still watching over his comrades.
Two thoughts imprinted themselves on my mind as I left the cemetery that day. First, we all have a responsibility to honor their sacrifice by protecting our liberties and fulfilling the responsibilities that go with those liberties. Exercising our liberties responsibly is not only respectful of the sacrifices made to protect them, it is a sure way to protect them from oppressive impulses to restrict them in the name of civil order.
We have a right to speak freely, but we have a responsibility to do so with respect for one another. We must not use our voices to lie, slander, or disparage. Instead, we must use our voices to educate, advocate, and debate.
We have a right to keep and bear arms, but we have a responsibility to do so safely. To own and carry the means to end someone’s life carries with it the responsibility to maintain the weapons, learn how to use them, store and handle them safely.
We have a right to vote, but we have a responsibility to know what we are voting for. We must educate ourselves on the issues and cast a vote for a candidate in accordance with our conscience. A vote cast in ignorance is not an act of self-governance. It is an act of disrespect to those who died to guarantee our right to vote.
When we exercise our rights in a responsible manner, we rob tyrants of excuses to infringe on our rights.
The second thought that lingered was that death humbles all. Under that grass and marble, great commanders who led legions into war lie yards away from the simplest private who never made it through his first battle. All of them are part of the same dirt now. Arlington reminds me of a missive penned by Stephen F. Austin that life is just a “speck between two eternities.”
While we all took some time on Memorial Day to reflect on the ultimate price paid made by so many American heroes for our liberty, it is what we do on the other 364 days of the year that truly honors their sacrifice. Make those days worth their sacrifice.