Thursday, May 29, 2008
Go Ahead, Thank Me for Sparing You the Complete Travel Log
As the Law of Conservation of Film doesn't apply to digital cameras, I took well over 200 pictures in Washington DC. I'll spare you the agony of ruffling through all of them (half of which are repeats and only half of those are really worth keeping), or even having to view them for the next several months on some sort of ongoing slide show on my sidebar.
However, I cannot completely overlook six wonderful days spent with only myself to look after and no bums to wipe, so this will be a DC post, though I'm hoping it doesn't deteriorate to a mere travel log of events. Yankee Girl's side bar says with her typical wry humor, "this blog does have narrow focus--it is all about me!" The same could easily be said here, but I hope this post does a little bit more than that. I want it to illustrate lessons learned from the journey, both literally and figuratively. And a few pictures.
As mentioned in the pre-DC post, my brother and his wife had led a pretty sheltered Utah-life when they moved to DC almost four years ago. Saturday night, I put my arm through hers as we walked the length of the Reflecting Pool on the way to the WWII monument. The moon was nearly full and it was possible to see a few stars, even with the bright city lights. I knew Shay had mixed emotions as she prepared to leave DC and I asked her if she was holding up okay. She said yes, but was quiet for several moments. Knowing that it takes my sister-in-law just a minute to find exactly the right words, I was quiet. She said, "You know, it isn't just that we've seen a lot of cool stuff since we've lived here." She gathered her thoughts again for a moment, "It is that living here as formed who Eric and I are as adults. Our whole world view is different."
I nodded, understanding perfectly what she meant. The places I've lived have likewise helped form my adult self--it isn't just what you see, it is who you've become.
Because self is constantly evolving, I would like to echo Shay's sentiments here and talk about some of the things I learned from my latest trip to DC. Because as much as I love monuments, museums, art galleries, relaxing and shopping, travel is more than all of this. I think its great value lies in the lessons taught when we immerse ourselves in things we've never seen before, when we try to think about things from other prespectives and see things for a moment as others see them.
So here are my travel insights. No doubt, your own visits to DC have taught you other things. Feel free to comment:
1) Can there be anything more sickening than the shoes, particularly the tiny shoes, in a large pile at the Holocaust Museum? I did not visit this venue last time I was in DC, and I was really grateful that I didn't pass it up a second time. I spent two hours in a haze of realization beyond anything I've ever learned about this "final solution" master-minded by a totalitarian government. While there, I imagined a young mother with three children and her strong husband, leaving behind every worldly posession but a small carpet-bag and the clothes on their backs. They are crammed into a box car with scores of families. On the journey, her children cry out in hunger and fear--it is dark and they are given nothing to eat or drink. They know they are headed east, someplace cold, and so the mother had insisted that each of her children were well-bundled, but these clothes become a terrible liability as the heat climbs and there is no way to catch a breath, or room to remove clothing. If her family of five manages to survive to the death camp, she and her darling, beloved little children will be sent one way, and her husband another. We know what happens next.
What constantly amazes me is that nobody in the chain of command said, "Wait! Enough is enough! People cannot be treated this way!" 2/3 of Europe's Jews wiped out in a handful of years, with a resistance so weak as to be almost negligible. The exhibit's final section is about the rescuers--both those who came in at the end of the war and closed the camps and those who helped in "small" ways during the war--but the blame heaped on the German people, a Fascist government, appeasing neighbors, governments unwilling to expand refugee quotas and individuals is apparent. And, I think, deserved.
It is easy to look back and say, "Why didn't the US do . . . ?" Insert just about anything you like into the elipse. It is probably a worthy question. But to the people of the time, the political questions were just as complicated as those bandied about daily by heads of state in regards to Kosovo, Rwanda, Darfur, Afghanistan, Kurdistan, Myanmar, North Korea and any other place where human rights are violated regularly and viciously. Germany's descent to the hellish nightmare it became in the 1930's and 1940's started with the suspension of basic rights for all Germans and the burning of books that allowed any room for dissent. Targeting homosexuals, the disabled, Jews, Blacks and other minority groups became easy once any voice of argument was strangled. I hope that history will not judge us as harshly as the groupthink rationale that allowed the Holocaust, but I have my doubts.
And, my fellow Latter-day Saints, lest we get too complacent about genocide, let's not forget how few generations our own people are from an extermination order. If there are any people who should reach out to those in desperate circumstances, it should be us. There are no easy answers here--the lessons of large scale intervention have their own history that is just as harsh as doing nothing.
2) Last week I paid my first visit to the Library of Congress. The exhibit on Thomas Jefferson's library is amazing. As I looked at his books I was literally awestruck. I love the words of the Declaration, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain, inalienable rights . . . " I believe firmly that men and women are inspired to do and say great things, but I think that this inspiration is easier to give to the mind and spirit that has been prepared for it. The soul of Thomas Jefferson lives on in those books, though his spirit has long departed and the worms have eaten his body.
3) I didn't notice last time I was at the Lincoln Memorial the simple phrase "I have a dream" engraved in the center steps, in perfect alignment with Lincoln, Washington's monument and the Capitol Building. On that great August day in 1963, Dr. King challenged America to make good on Thomas Jefferson's "promissary note" found in the Declaration of Independence. We are so blessed to live in a country that, for all of its problems, at the very least was founded on the principle that all men are created equal. Lincoln was right--it is better for us to live together and compromise about our many issues than to fraction ourselves off every time we disagree. America is indeed the great democratic experiment: subject to testing and re-testing every generation or so. I feel like our time of testing is now. The Lord always promised that the righteous would be delivered to this land and then subject to the condition of remembrance: remembrance of forefathers, faith, God and true patriotism. Without remembrance, only pride in our own abilities is left. For all of our powerful belief in self-determination, make no mistake that divided we will fall.
4)As Eric graduated from GW, I was so impressed. He, and his wife, have worked so hard. I was struck as I watched those 130+ graduates of varying ages, colors, cultures and sexes walk across the stage that some of America's best and brightest were on display. This group, and other groups like them, will help determine the future of health care in this country. (Indeed, their visiting guest-speaker talked to this very issue, which my mother sniffed at as being way too political.) I feel in my bones that change is in the air. I haven't yet decided if that will be a good or a bad thing. I guess that depends entirely on how willing people are to be committed to principles instead of simply to policy.
5) My reading of choice on the trip was "The Fire of the Covenant." I learned I had an ancestor in the Martin Handcart company. It was a moving book to read in the middle of a city where it is impossible not to think about the sacrifices of so many who've gone before me. I think my late night reading was as profound as the day time sites.
Still, family is family and just being with my sibs for a few days was a great part of the journey too. My brother may be a doctor, but he is definitely not above wearing his doctoral hood as an actual hood and re-enacting the final scenes of Return of the Jedi. Or pretending to stand in a Depression Era unemployment line. We were also not above asking Daddy to pay when we ate at a fancy restaraunt after graduation. And what is a family outing on a blustery, sunny day if mom doesn't impersonate the unibomber at least once. Amanda and I worked it with the concierge to get a free movie in our room (on the premise that our stay was not all it could be because the hot tub was broken). National Treasure: Book of Secrets, of course. Amanda and I also rented 27 Dresses on the plane ride home. I think the guy sitting next to us was ready to kill the two of us. My older brother was so sick of my sister and I by day 6, that I'm sure he just went home and hugged his wife for 30 minutes straight.
And while we reverted back to our "typical" family roles for a few days, there is something really refreshing about being with the people who best know your quirks because they share a lot of them. Still, I was very glad to get back to the home I've actually chosen, grateful in every way for where I have come from and where I'm headed.