It’s a cool September day, and I’m home in Victoria.
Glory be, and thank goodness for the end of summer.
Because my kids are covered in scabbed-over mosquito bites.
Because when I unpacked our luggage, sand spilled onto the floor.
Because my neck aches from other people’s too-puffy pillows.
Because it took forever to bury Ted Kennedy, and summer ended there but still we had to go through the motions for a few days. And because my dad and I waited hours for Obama’s speech and still missed it, laying flat on my parents’ bed watching the eulogies, my father too exhausted from his own brain-cancer radiation to speak much; me not knowing what to say, or how to say what to say.
And wasn’t it shocking, after all: not the death, not the disease, but the pomp & circumstance, the beauty & order both of the Roman Catholic ceremony & of the Americal political burial: all ritual, all symbolism, all reported with the most catch-your-breath innocence.
Soon, seven riflemen were firing three volleys. Soon, the shadow of a bugler was playing “Taps,” as heat lightning stunned the night sky. Arlington was dark; a long day had ended. But come Sunday morning, cemetery officials say, the green of the grass will be smooth again, the hole filled, the sod laid. Only then it will feature a white wooden cross made by the cemetery’s carpenter, and a white marble marker that bears the name of another Kennedy, this one as distinct and as human and as accomplished as the others, a man in his own right.
At Barnard I majored in European History. In particular, I was a WWI buff. I wrote my senior thesis on masculinity in Britain during the Great War. (Yes, I called it The Great War, for reasons I felt passionate about at the time but can no longer explain.)
Alongside my thesis I wrote a narrative account of the burial of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey on November 11th, 1920. It was the ultimate orchestrated funeral, and it provided an incredible catharsis from the nightmare of the war.
Every aspect of the soldier’s journey from France to London was carefully planned–from the coffin made by Queen Victoria’s coffin-makers to the war widows who sat in each pew during the burial. The ritual resonated: on the first day alone, 40,000 Britons queued in the rain for the chance to pay their respects to the fallen soldier, perhaps their own son, husband, brother, lover.
I’d thought we’d forgotten how to do that: not just the pomp & circumstance, but also the shared public mouring ritual –remembering one man while delineating the shared values & symbols of a country.
It’s kind of nice to think, in a sad, end-of-summer kind of way.
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