Sunday, September 27, 2009


I just got back from an academic conference in Arlington, Virginia.  It was good and useful, but I'm tired.  I may add more details later.

All of my flights went well, and I always got through the airport lines quickly.  For some reason, I get paranoid about airports and insist on showing up two hours before departure, so I always end up waiting an hour and a half.

I took the metro to Arlington National Cemetery during the afternoon break on Saturday.  As is typical for me, I wandered off the assigned path and into the actual cemetery sections, looking at the names on the tombstones and letting my mind wander.  It started drizzling, so I sat down under a tree in the middle of a section with the identical tombstones laid out in that perfect geometric pattern you only see in American military cemeteries.

After sitting there a while, I walked through the section with massive ostentatious chunks of marble for old generals and admirals.  I find it fitting that nobody really cares about that section anymore.  The main images of Arlington are the sections with identical tombs for everyman soldiers, and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

I watched the changing of the guard, in a light rain.  There was a large crowd there, including a lot of veterans in wheelchairs.  The ceremony and setting made me think random poetic thoughts.  After it was over, I spent some time looking at the new guard and wondering about him.  I knew that he was a human being with human friendships, experiences, hopes, and dreams.  But he had been transformed into an icon, a symbol, a cog in a machine.  The tombstones have the same effect; you have to work hard to think of each one as a real person.

I saw the Pentagon from the airplane, the takeoff took us almost directly over it.  I saw most of the other Washington landmarks from the hotel restaurant and from the cemetery, but I didn't go into the city.

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