Of the soul

A lovely day at Arlington National Cemetery, December 2014

A lovely day at Arlington National Cemetery, December 2014

“Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.”
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Oddly enough, it’s my belief in the sentiment expressed here by Longfellow that underlies my enjoyment of visiting graveyards and cemeteries.  When one believes in the immortality of the soul, the sadness or fear often associated with burial grounds is lifted, and the wonder of each human life is seen with sharpened focus.

Nowhere is this more true than at Arlington National Cemetery.  I did my walking there one beautiful sunny day last week, because I wanted to see the wreaths on display.  Over 300,000 people are buried at Arlington, and beautiful fresh evergreen wreaths with large red bows adorn most of the graves.  This yearly practice is quite an accomplishment.  I walked several miles inside Arlington that day and did not see a single headstone without a wreath.

Something about the sight of so much evergreen amid the winter landscape is a fitting reminder that death is a universal threshold we all must approach, and we need not fear it.  Faith and hope are well represented by the bright red and green amid the subdued winter landscape.

The headstones at Arlington recall the lives of citizens of all ages and stations; those who were born two hundred years ago, and infants who died in recent years; supreme court justices and statesmen, two U. S. Presidents, soldiers of every rank, and their families.  Some tell poignant stories, and some give us only the name and life span of the person buried there, leaving the details to our imaginations.

The beauty of the hills, trees and quiet pathways, and the monuments stretching as far as the eye can see are a reassuring sight for grieving families, as well as a refreshing break from the clamor of the city for tourists visiting from all over the world.  Walking through the well-kept grounds, I was happy that Jeff has decided he wants to be buried there, which will mean that Matt and I, too, will be laid to rest beside him.

I hope this doesn’t seem like an odd meditation with which to begin the year.  Remembering the brevity of earthly life is a great way to strengthen our resolve to live fully and well for whatever time remains for us.  As the old quote says, today is the first day of the rest of our lives.  Let’s recognize each day as a real and earnest gift, one we receive with gratitude and celebration.

Soldier who died in Iraq  Cobeil grave  Family headstone
Civil War veteran  Doubleday grave  IMG_8049

This post was first published seven years ago today. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.


  1. Judy

    The wreaths are absolutely beautiful! I went to the link you provided so that I could learn more about the organization and now I plan to begin supporting them. My husband is an Air Force veteran and we plan to be laid to rest someday in the military cemetery that’s near us.

    Now that you post twice a week rather than daily, it’s an opportunity for me to re-read each one and soak up the message again when I come here for part of my morning inspiration. When I read a post again, I always find that I see a phrase or idea in a new way. Something different stands out to me. Today the quote from Longfellow sank in a little deeper because one of my adult unvaccinated children is now struggling with a whopping case of covid. That quote reminds me that there’s a bigger story for each of us. It helps my heart sets aside its worries and again rest in my faith in God and his loving plans.

    • Hi Judy, sorry to be so late getting to these comments. I hope that by now, your family members are all doing well. I’m trying to get up the nerve to get my booster shot, because the Covid vaccine made me feel almost as sick as the actual Covid did in December 2020. I’ve heard from at least one person (who is a very easygoing sort and NOT a complainer) that the booster made her even sicker than the second dose of the original vaccine. Life just seems to get more complicated, doesn’t it? I am glad you two will be buried in a military cemetery. The ones I have seen are so well kept and beautifully planned.

      Thanks so much for your kind words about the blog. Even as the person who wrote them, when I read back over them before re-posting, I find that there is so much I have forgotten about. That’s why I decided to re-post the old ones; I figured if I didn’t remember them, nobody else would. 😀 Yes, we all need to remember the “bigger story” and have faith that each day, no matter how little we feel we may have accomplished or how mundane the daily chores have seemed, our daily life is part of a much larger canvas that we can’t see because we are so close. I’m so grateful you are here with us as ALL our stories continue to unfold!

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