After a long day of driving, and wandering through the Muir Woods, we head back into town. Driving across the golden gate bridge is always a fun experience, and is exactly like driving across the Sydney Harbour Bridge back home, so as new it is to us, it feels completely normal and even a little nostalgic (even though we only left Sydney a week or so earlier).
We decide that we aren't quite ready to head back into the grid like expanse of steel and concrete that is the central district of San Francisco, and that we should wander along the shoreline near the bridge. I had been talking about the surfers beneath the bridge for a number of days now, and I wanted to watch them and also get some shots. Our sense of direction had other plans though.
Still relying on our natural Australian instincts of driving on the left hand side of the road, and not the wrong side of the road, we ended up taking a random right to avoid being funneled back into the depths of the city, and ended up in an assortment of buildings which we could only describe as being 'militaristic'. The Golden Gate Bridge peeks over the tree line.
We looked around for someone to as for directions, but the car park was empty, the area was silent and there wasn't a person in sight. A graveyard appeared out of behind the buildings and we parked. I am unable to resist the chance at wandering through graveyards.
Solemn. Quiet. Peaceful. In a big city, sometimes the graveyard is the only escape from the noise of life. Huge trees seem to accentuate this feeling, as if they absorb the departure from nature that is a big city.
Graveyards are not a place for the dead, but for the living. It is a place for reflection. For the relatives of these people, mostly, if not all, soldiers, they are beloved family members. For me, they are another name in a field of fallen. Another number. I read them, and say their names aloud as if to prolong their memory a little further. I remember hearing someone talk about the three deaths we undertake. The first, is the physical death, when your body stops functioning. The second, in from this example, is when the last person you know dies. And the third is when your name is spoken for the last time.
There are many variations of this idea, but they all end the same, with the last time your name is spoken. It is a hard thing to conceive, not existing at all, especially for a very long time, and I feel like when ever I enter a graveyard, I must say each name I read out loud so as to continue this persons life. I am not militant about it and certainly don't walk around graveyards saying the name of everyone, but you know what I mean.
Something unique to military graveyards across the world is the grave of the unknown soldier. Every country has their own unknown soldier, to which a deeper, more respectful homage is paid. The unknown soldier embodies the truest act of selflessness that war too often requires.
The act is more symbolic than anything, and pays respect not to the individual soldier who was forever lost to war, but is more for any and all soldiers who could not be personally identified or accounted for. It is one of the saddest things about war, that a person can leave everything behind and pay the ultimate sacrifice, only to be lost to history.
Nonetheless, their sacrifice is not forgotten, and their final resting places aren't lifeless. Even if I cannot continue their legacy, or life, by saying their name out loud. They are not forgotten, and in every country and nation, their own unknown soldiers will get the remembrance they deserve. Remembrance which we owe them.
With silence in our minds, we let the sun set over the graveyard while we wander, looking over San Francisco Bay, which seems to have the same thing in mind.
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