I decided to take a trip. I needed to get away. I needed to visit Sam. I needed some direction. I called my mom and asked her to meet me in D.C. over Labor Day weekend and celebrate her birthday. She obliged along with my two favorite cousins, Pam and Karen and my Aunt Linda. We had a fabulous girls weekend planned...
We had many profound experiences on our trip to D.C. I’d like to call them miracles, because there were some things I just couldn’t explain. Miracles can be found all around us and since Sam died, I’ve had to look for the miraculous at every chance…and appreciate them. It’s what gives me hope.
Traveling, albeit by plane, is quite exhausting. My mom and I got there a day before everyone else so we could have some alone time at Sam’s grave. We knew we’d be tired when we arrived in Washington D.C. We can typically maneuver around the metro quite well. After all, we’ve spent a lot of time in D.C. over the course of many years. Our trips to D.C. aren’t the touristy trips one thinks of when visiting our nation’s capital. Our trips look much different.
We debated if we wanted to take the metro to Arlington National Cemetery (ANC) and walk from the metro to the visitor’s center, which was about ½ mile. We could then take the shuttle to Section 60 where my brother is laid to rest. Neither of us had ever “Ubered”, but thought this would be a good time to start. Uber could pick us up from the hotel and drive us right up to Section 60, but we would have to consider the walk back which is about ½ mile as well. Either way, we’d get our exercise.
Fortunately, we both had our ANC vehicle passes. You see, when a "next of kin" is buried in ANC, they give you a vehicle pass to allow your direct access. This pass allows you to bypass all three police checkpoints. They move closed coned off areas for you, then you drive into a separate entrance right past all the tourists headed towards the Tomb of the Unknown. Guards must stop them from crossing the crosswalk to allow you to drive through at which point you can then drive right up to your loved one’s grave.
Our Uber driver picked us up. I believe he was Haitian. I looked at my Uber app to see he had given nearly 5000 rides. He was a very nice gentleman, probably in his late 30’s. We told him we were going to ANC. We said, "We have a pass. Can you please drive us in?"
He said, "Oh no. They won't let me in. You can't drive into the cemetery."
Again, we told him, "We have a pass, you can drive us in."
Slightly confused, he now approached the first checkpoint. We hand him the pass to show to the first police officer. He reluctantly takes it, still confused. Police immediately move cones when they see the pass. Uber driver says, "Wow! How do you get one of those?” as if we were some sort of dignitaries or something.
Mom and I looked at each other and were both thinking, "Buddy, you DO NOT want one of these." I think Mom may have said it out loud.
He continued, "I've never been to ANC. I've dropped people off, but in all my days, I've never been inside."
Mind-blown, right? This man lives in D.C., has given over 5000 Uber rides, and has never been inside the gates of ANC? What?
After the third checkpoint, he drove into the gates of Arlington and Mom told him to please drive to her son’s gravesite and proceeded to direct him. He was speechless. His very first experience visiting inside the gates of ANC was to escort a Gold Star Family to their hero’s grave. It was about a half mile drive and I’ve never felt so much deafening silence. He drove so slowly. I could hear the slight gasp under his breath as he looked around. It was obvious he was astounded and humbled by what he saw. I could feel the awkwardness of the silence. He wanted to say something and maybe we were waiting for him to say something. I gathered that most likely this experience may have been his first and last time he would ever get to drive his own personal vehicle into those gates…and I hoped it was.
I imagined, as an immigrant, he had to have pondered the sacrifice made for him, maybe even appreciate his own journey a little more. I'll never forget that man and the reverence he had for us, and for all those who paid the ultimate sacrifice.
The miracle we witnessed that day was the Lord allowed, not only our pain, but also the sacrifice my brother made, to directly affect someone else in a way that wouldn’t have been possible if it hadn’t been orchestrated to do so. I will always wonder what that man thought. I will always wonder how that experience affected him, maybe changed him. No doubt he will always remember that experience, my brother, and our family.
There is so much division in our country, I can’t help but ponder the idea that there are those that want their voices heard and want others to see their hurt and pain and somehow understand something we haven’t experienced for ourselves. Then there are those, like myself, who are also hurting, for other reasons, also feeling alone in that many do not understand or comprehend the sacrifice of losing a loved one in war. That day, there was nothing political, cultural, racial, or religious that separated us from that man. This man, a stranger, simply stepped into our world for a moment in time and he felt.
We were simply…Americans. Isn’t that a miracle?