I just came back from a week in Washington, D.C. and I have to say that I am happy to be home. D.C. is an amazing city and I did not begin to make a dent in seeing everything there was to see. I did, however, get to see some amazing things. My husband was tied up in two conventions for the Project Management Institute so I was on my own much of the time...a rather daunting idea for a small-town girl like me.
My first full day on my own I caught the shuttle bus from our hotel and after a twenty-minute (or so) ride, there I was at the corner of 12th and Pennsylvania Avenue standing in front of the Old Post Office and a life-sized (if not larger) statue of Benjamin Franklin.
After being pointed in the right direction by our very helpful bus driver, I set off down Pennsylvania Avenue, turned right at 15th Street (I think) and found myself in front of the White House (well actually it was the BACK of the White House but it's the part we usually see on TV). After a few minutes of camera duty, off I went to the George Washington Monument. At 550 feet, it is a great landmark if you are kind of lost or at least a little unsure that you remember the directions correctly (trust me on that one!).
After a short walk on this beautiful sunny day, I found myself standing in front of the ticket office where I secured a free ticket to go inside the monument and take the elevator up to the top. I asked for directions (I seemed to have done a LOT of that this past week) to the restroom and, after successfully locating them and taking care of business, I turned my attention to the very large stone structure in front of me. I followed the sidewalk and slowly wound my way closer and closer and as I did so, I unexpectedly became aware of the fact that there were tears in my eyes. I blinked them away and realized that a part of me wanted to cry.
Filing that part of me away for future reference, I took my place in line, and as I waited my turn, struck up a conversation with a very nice retired couple from Massachusetts. The time passed quickly as we shared our stories about how we came to be where we were and we parted ways when their small group went up into the monument ahead of me. My turn came at last and up I went to see some pretty spectacular views of the city.
Upon returning to ground level, I set off down (up?) the mall to pay my respects to President Lincoln, not realizing that the object of my desire was further away than it appeared. I walked along in the bright sunshine and found myself at the World War II Memorial, an amazing creation, indeed!
Being a woman on a mission, I spent little time there as I could see my goal getting closer. However, I was there long enough to see the old men standing in small groups quietly talking, laughing, sharing their stories and having their pictures taken under the wreaths with their state's name engraved below them. I quietly said a prayer and a thank you for the sacrifices these men and women made so that I could live in freedom and I pushed onward.
As I walked along the reflecting pool, I began to realize just how far apart the Washington monument and Lincoln memorial really are. As I walked, I met up with the couple from Massachusetts again and, after making jokes about stalking, I propelled myself forward finally leaving the reflecting pool behind and standing at the bottom of the 58 steps leading to what I can only describe as the GINORMOUS Lincoln Memorial building.
One by one, I made my way up the steps, finding my pace slowing as I neared the summit; partially from fatigue but mostly from awe. I stepped into the building, made my way around the cool stone columns and there HE was. I stepped closer, tears filling my eyes and, perhaps, one or two sliding down my cheeks. I blinked and stepped up to the velvet ropes oblivious to those around me taking pictures and talking. I had no time for them. I was standing at the feet of Abraham Lincoln.
After just BEING in that moment of being awestruck and overwhelmed, I slowly made my way back down the steps and made my way to the Vietnam memorial. Again, I took in this famous landmark saying a prayer for all those names on the wall and their friends and families.
I have seen pictures of these places but nothing prepared me for seeing these things in person with my own eyes. Touching the cool stone, feeling the hush in these quiet places (even with people milling around them). I was actually HERE. This was REAL. These things were put here for ME and for every citizen of this great country. They were not created on a sound stage in Hollywood. This was not a work of fiction.
They exist not only as a way for us to honor those that they represent but to connect us to them. To give us a tangible THING to hold onto. We are physical beings, we need to use our senses to make things real. We need to see and touch and smell and hear (maybe not taste in this instance...) these things. I am beginning to realize the importance of preserving our past and perhaps, one day, I will be more inclined to actually set foot into a museum (not one of my favorite things to do) but until then, I certainly have a deeper understanding of why we have them and for that I am grateful.
Finding Joy in this (long-walked) Journey,