Alright, this post is sort of a culmination of my thoughts and feelings about our nation’s capitol. It’s a little scatter-brained, but I believe I made a disclaimer in a previous post that my mind works sporadically. I ask you to bear with me.
I’m going to spare myself the trouble of trying to link all my thoughts together seamlessly, and I’m going to save you the time of trying to figure out where one thought starts and another ends. This means that, once again, it’s time for a list of bulleted points, each denoting a separate thought.
(1) As we got off the Metro at the National Mall, I was immediately rapt in amazement. The first building my eyes fell upon was the U.S. Capitol, and as I turned my head to the left, I saw the Washington monument. I even went as far as to bring up a picture of each on my phone, and hold it up next to the real deal. Across the grounds were several Smithsonian buildings and other national landmarks. It’s like Washington, D.C. had walked up to me and punched me in the face so that I would be forced to take notice. I’m
not mad about it. It’s crazy to have something you recognize only from pictures and textbooks actualized right before you. To say I was captivated would be an understatement.
My main take away from point number one: I realized within about 30 seconds that Washington, D.C. is where stuff happens, like it or not. Whether you agree or disagree with what happens, whether you align as a Democrat or Republican, and whether you see our federal employees as public servants or self-servants; D.C. is where it all goes down.
(2) Once the initial wallop of wonder began to subside, I began to take notice of the people around me. Individuals of every race, religion, and class were walking the same grounds as Patrick, Corey, and I. Name a state, country, or region, and I guarantee it was represented on the grounds that day. Corey noted that it was like a small snippet of what an ‘ideal’ America should resemble, and I couldn’t agree more. People of different cultures, creeds, and perceptions living together harmoniously. We weren’t all sitting around in a big circle, holding hands, singing “We are the World,” but we were simply existing while allowing others to exist in the same space, without quarrel. Of course, I was overcome with the urge to take photographs of individuals and ask them random questions about their life experiences, but I refrained. Lest Patrick be mortified.
(3) After seeing the Capitol and the Washington monument, we made our way to other memorials and monuments, including the WWII, Korean, Vietnam, Lincoln, MLK Jr., and Washington memorials, the Capitol, The White House, The Supreme Court, two Smithsonian buildings, and maybe something that I’m forgetting at the moment. These had a deep impact on me. Even now, I can’t out rightly place a label on the correct emotions that bubbled in and out of my mind, or wherever it is that emotions go. It was something like a mix of reverence, humility, sadness, admiration gratitude, melancholy, excitement, anticipation, grief, appreciation, and so on. Obviously, I was a basket case. In fact, I believe that might be the exact definition of a basket case of emotions.
(4) Out of everything that we saw, I have to say that the Vietnam War Memorial had the most profound impact on me that day. That era of American History has always mystified me in a sense. It was such a dark, dismal time for America, and as an avid movie watcher, I’ve seen it reflected in movies such as Full Metal Jacket, Platoon, the Deer Hunter. All are movies that I’ve seen once and I don’t know if I’ll ever watch again after witnessing the bleak themes they portray. Unrest dominated the social climate during that time, and it seemed that the Vietnam War was at the center of it all.
I saw all of that reflected in the Vietnam War Memorial. The monument itself is so minimalistic: a series of black walls with names of casualties engraved. It’s simple, it’s basic, and it makes sense. There are so many names on that monument. So many names. It’s astonishing, bewildering, and indelibly haunting. I’m a 20-year-old college student with a job, a loving family, an inspiring base of friends, and many opportunities that I often take for granted a little too much. I’ve done little to deserve these things other than being blessed enough to be born into them. I greatly enjoy history, and I’ll admit that I don’t often enough think of the events that took place long before my time on earth. I’m almost always one to recognize how fortunate I am to be in my position, but seeing that monument knocked me on the floor with humility.
I took one picture of the monument that sends a chilling feeling up my spine. It’s a close-up of the monument, in which you can clearly read a handful of names. Reflected clearly in the monument, though, is myself. It just further drives my main thought behind point number 4: that the events that took place in American History have had a direct effect on the world in which we live today.
(5) Another sub-thought on the Vietnam monument: as I was walking around the structure, I was compelled to walk slowly. It was really the only feasible way I could think to show respect for the names on that wall. As you can tell, I was overwhelmed with emotions and thoughts. Anytime this happens, a common reaction of mine to turn my attention to my surroundings in a very visceral manner. Every footstep has its own beat, and every bend in the wind has a unique touch; I guess I let my senses do the thinking that my mind can’t comprehend. In this instance, I turned part of my attention to the conversations occurring between individuals around me. Most people were making idle chatter about what monument they had to rush themselves to next or what their dinner plans were. Some people, however, had some very meaningful things to say. Some were searching for family members, friends, or members from their military unit, and there was a mixture of emotions and comments emanating from them. There was one conversation that struck me at my core, though.
A middle-aged man and his daughter had spent some amount of time looking for a particular name on the wall and eventually found it. Whether the name on the wall was the girl’s grandfather, great-grandfather, an uncle, or even a family friend — I don’t know — but the conversation went as follows:
Daughter: What did he look like, Daddy?
Dad: Like a normal guy. He just looked like a normal guy.
… I keep rereading the conversation. I still think it’s an inspirational, tragic, insightful, and beautiful exchange. I can’t exactly explain why this struck me as so important, but I think it’s one of those things that if you get it, you get it, and it needs no explanation. Ultimately, I keep arriving at the same conclusion. The Vietnam War was real, and the people fighting were real. They were normal, and some of them died. Real people died. Normal people died.
On both the American and Vietnam sides.
Anyway, that’s about all that I can muster for this post. It’s rather lengthy, but writing this entry has been a great chance to revisit these thoughts and make a little more sense out of them, but I think it’s best to draw it at an end here. In short, I loved my first visit to D.C., and I can’t wait to go back again.