I shift my feet awkwardly on the use polished concrete and try to look properly respectful. I know that I am supposed to be respectful, maybe awed. Daddy is holding my hand, Little Sister is in the carrier on his back, idly chewing on her thumb as her eyes, bright blue today, roam over the assembled silver heads. I’m not cold yet, despite the December chill in the New England air. Big sister gave me her coat, the thick blue one with the giant buttons before we split at the beginning of the day and you can’t be cold in that coat. No, the discomfort that makes my feet move comes from the knowledge that I am missing something. Not just a little something like what those ‘DO NOT PASS’ traffic signs mean when clearly we drive right past them. No I am missing a big thing.
“Listen!” Daddy says in a hushed whisper, his work rough hands gently, urgently squeezing mine.
I listen. I hear the same thing that the rest of the crowd does; the steady tread of two pairs of feet in gleaming black boots. But I know deep down that I am missing something. I shyly glance up at the rapt faces around me. They are wrinkled, creased with age and care. A few of them have tears in their eyes. Almost all of them are not really looking at the young man and young woman passing each other on the walk in the center of the crowd. No their eyes are looking through the young soldiers, beyond them to something I cannot see.
I am missing something.
There is a feeling here that I cannot feel. There is something sacred here that my seven year old self does not understand. It frustrates me but I stay silent. I do understand that this is not the time or place for my usual string of questions. One of the soldiers vanishes and I wonder where he went, craning my head curiously. The crowd breathes and begins to move, milling about, taking pictures. Daddy slowly leads us forward and we stand in front of the monument. In order to keep my mind busy I carefully read the carved stone.
HERE LIES IN HONORED GLORY AN AMERICAN SOLDIER
Even at seven I knew the history. I had heard not only the official explanation but the personal stories of my grandfather about piles of bodies on beaches. I knew the facts, but it would be years before I got what I was missing that cold December day, before I understood that I would probably never truly understand what was going on in their hearts and minds when the old men cried at the changing of the guard.