This week, my brother is visiting D.C. for the first time. I took him to the memorials today. The Lincoln Memorial was my brother’s favorite. “Lincoln is bigger than I thought,” he said, just as he said the Washington Monument was larger than he’d imagined. Together we looked at the statue and then we started reading. Four score and seven years ago, on the walls. I have a dream, on the ground by the steps. We read the walls and the floors as we sweated our way through the masses of tourists, some of whom were trying to read the same words as we were, and some who just wanted to photograph their appearance there.
I don’t go to the memorials often. Once every few months is all I can take of the WWII memorial with its hundreds of stars that dare me to try to count them. Every few months is plenty of times to see the Korean War memorial with the faces that stare back next to my reflection. And it takes all my emotional gumption to walk slowly enough through the hauntingly simple Vietnam memorial with its list of name after name after name in order of death date. Because people don’t die in alphabetical order. That’s what the tour guide said today to the group in the matching neon shirts.
Today there are roses all along walls of the Vietnam memorial. Hundreds of Fathers Day roses, for dads who weren’t there on Sunday for the dinners and the cards and the phone calls. They are wilting in the sun, but I can still clearly read the messages on each of the cards attached to the flowers. I want to cry but don’t. Instead I force myself to slow down, to remember deeply, enough to feel it somewhere near my stomach.
I smell the roses as they continue to wilt in the swampy District heat. My brother is ahead and I know he is ready to leave. Before I go, I read a few more names and I think about the entitlement I so often feel toward my sacrifice-drenched Freedom. I think about love, and I think about what it takes to give life away.
I walk on from the black stone of the wall, but the roses stay there.