Spent a week last month in Washington D.C. with my family. Got a week long history lesson and a tease of spring.
We walked to the Lincoln Memorial at night on Easter Sunday, awed by the majesty of the statue and setting, struck, first, by Lincoln himself, then by the view of the mall and Washington Monument in the distance.
We stopped to watch the small licks of flame bearing witness to JFK’s grave in Arlington; saw, too, the memorials to space shuttle crews and soldiers and statesmen, and stood silent for the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
At Gettysburg earlier in the trip, we stood on Little Round Top and looked over the valley – the Valley of Death, it was called – where one of the Civil War’s most pivotal battles occurred. Thousands of soldiers perished there, with some 50,000 casualties in the three-day Battle of Gettysburg.
History is always close by, but rarely sought out, scarcely celebrated, as it is in the nation’s capitol. Museums abound. From the Holocaust to Native Americans, Apollo 11 and Shepard Fairey, distant and near history is on exhibit in D.C. and hard to miss.
My partner, Becky, and I had planned the trip as a combination graduation present and civics lesson for her eighth-grade daughter and my eighth-grade son. I hadn’t spent much time wondering how it might impact me.
But it did. Sites such as the small marker memorializing the journalists killed while covering wars, the pages of George Washington’s diary and the breathtaking architecture of the Library of Congress left me speechless and humbled.
We forget history easily, distracted as we are by the bright lights of tomorrows or by the day’s bleak news. Stocks are down; pirates are trolling the high seas; opening day; Thank God it’s Friday. Who has time for history?
But in the museums, face to face with the writing of the men and women who helped shape this country, striving to create freedom and equality and a sound democracy, I felt strengthened and more hopeful about the future. Our purpose need not be their’s, our cause need not be the same, but it seems to me we can take some solace in knowing the fights that have already been fought – and won.
The economy is in recession, the environment is in crisis, wars are being waged and people are starving across the globe. Daunting, yes. But the museums and sites we visited in D.C. carried a message – that there had been other dark nights before.
We came home to Wauwatosa to find the magnolia in our front yard in bloom. Spring was coming.