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Posts Tagged ‘Washington DC’

The Last Great Compromise

As we took our seats where Congress makes their opinions heard and turns ideas into laws, I expected a very nicey, nicey speech about American politics.  What I got was a man sharing the difficulties of a divided house in the nicest way possible.  “We don’t get to know each other anymore.  We don’t share who we are because too often it gets turned into something we’re not and we have lost our ability to compromise.”  Yes, we have.  Kids today don’t fight and make up anymore; they kill each other.  Divorced parents don’t try to get along.  They demean and criticize despite what it does to the children.  We are more intent on being right than we are about doing right and as a society we seem to have forgotten how to listen to different opinions and compromise.  Anyone who has served on a committee or even been a Girl Scout leader knows that if you have 12 people you will have twelve opinions and in a democratic process majority rules, unless the minority decides they want to drag out the vote so nobody wins.  How is that good?  Representative Neil said it best, “until we go back to listening to each other and regarding each other as people rather than opponents, nothing will change.”  We’ve lost our way as a nation; we need to find our way back to the beginning. 

The Beginning

When this nation was just beginning to create a persona for ourselves we built our monuments and our places of work and worship in much the same way other great civilizations built theirs, with the back-breaking labor of slaves.  It’s interesting that this nation, forged for freedom, was largely built by those who were not and this is not the only irony.  Walking around Washington you are struck by the Roman and Greek architecture, by the statues of Roman Gods and American heroes.  Union station is guarded by stone statues not unlike the Chinese Stone Army.  Lincoln sits in a structure that starkly resembles the Parthenon right down to the larger than life figure residing inside.  The inscription above his head even refers to the place as a temple.  The capital building with its domed roof is so much like the domed Cathedrals of Rome and in the center of the great structure is a painting of George Washington ascending into heaven.  In a country where we are so adamant about separation of church and state, religious ideas seemed to be dripping from the walls.   Then I walked into the Library of Congress.  Originally we had no idea what the Library of Congress was, which is rather embarrassing as it is exactly what its name implies, a library belonging to Congress (duh!).  Every bit of knowledge to have ever existed resides within these walls (or nearby walls) and being a lover of wisdom and a seeker of truth the place enthralled me.  The building is in the architectural style of the Italian Renaissance and within every curve, carving, and mosaic tile every country, religion, and school of thought is represented. 

            Thomas Jefferson believed that one could never know what knowledge would be valuable when it came to governing so he collected everything and so does the Library.  Great teachers such as Aristotle, Euripides, Jesus, Mohammed, and other great thinkers are included.  All the disciplines of learning are illustrated; Science, Language, History, Art, Mechanics, etc.  In one hall marble cherub-like figures lined the staircases each dressed and holding the tools of a trade or discipline from cities around the world.  In the center of these skilled workers were two globes and more children representing the four hemispheres of the earth, an Asian, an Indian, a European and an African.  No one race above or below another.  The building continuously acknowledges contributions of knowledge and skill from all over the world.  All I could think of was yeah, this is right.  We need to get back to this; the profound belief that every person, every culture and every religion is valuable; is not better or worse, above or below and contributes something amazing and beautiful to life. 

We humans are not perfect.  We can find ugly in every culture but why did that stop us from continuing to look for the beautiful?  We so afraid to respect and embrace  different cultures or religions because we are afraid of finding out our religious choice might be wrong when there is no right or wrong religion and if there is, well it’s not ours to judge now is it.  We need to embrace the blind love of children, revel in how our differences bring substance and  beauty to our world, and once again learn how to compromise and see other people’s point of view.  That, I believe, is the path to world peace, love, appreciation and compromise.  Our country has held the answer to this timeless question all this time, who would’ve thought it was sitting smack dab in the middle of the Library of Congress.

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I’m not very political.  Admittedly there are days I fear for our country because it seems as if people in government are more occupied with making large amounts of money than doing what’s best for the country, but since I am not very political I can’t be sure if this assessment is true or not.  I am no expert on anything other than my own self and there are days when even I lack the confidence to tell what I know, but as a parent I want my children to understand Washington D.C., our system of government and that our way of life did not come easy and shouldn’t be taken for granted. I want them to grow up being grateful for what they have and where they live instead of always wanting more and trying to find happiness in things, instead of themselves.  In the blur of “vacationing” in Washington D.C. these are some of the soft moments and the thoughts I came away with.  I was so long winded I had to break it up into two posts.

“Freedom is Not Free”

How do you explain to an 8 and two six year old twin girls why the war memorials stand?  With a little guidance, the older boys were able to understand that our freedom has been purchased with the blood and the lives of our loved ones, but the girls?  Could they get it?  Should they?  I was walking ahead with the boys explaining how the Vietnam Memorial reflected our images into the stone to symbolize our connection to those we have lost.  How the words seem to disappear in the rain to illustrate how fleeting life can be and how it appears to be a part of the hill from the other side to show the Vietnam War is a part of us and our history. 

I watch a lot of documentaries.  I am the type of person who cannot fall asleep with the TV on and my husband is the type who needs the TV to keep his mind occupied so he can fall asleep.  It is the only thing that does not mesh in our relationship although we have found a way to make it work.  We watch documentaries and when he begins to doze I can shut the program off.  If it was a movie or show I can’t shut it off until the story is over.  Because I watch this stuff before I fall asleep it gets filed in my brain first and so I am blessed with tons and tons of useless information stored up in my brain but have no idea where I leave my keys on a typical monday morning.   This is the reason I remember these facts but honestly,  I think I made the last one up.  My friend was following behind with the girls and when we looked back they were far behind and we had to wait for them.  When they finally reached the rest of us my friend explained their delay.  The girls had asked what the words meant.  She explained that each set was a name of a person who had died in the war.  They thought about that for a moment and then they hugged the wall and said Thank You.  They then spent the next few minutes straightening up the red carnations someone had left at the memorial, making sure each block had a flower in the center standing straight, tall and proud.  My friend looked at me, “Vicky, I wasn’t going to rush them.”  Six and eight years old and they found their way to remember the lost.  They found a way to not only be touched by the memories but to touch me as well.

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We spent April Vacation week in Washington D.C.  We planned everything, I bought books and activity pages so the children would learn and have fun at the same time and even with all the planning we still only saw a small part of Washington, but if by some miracle we had seen everything I still wouldn’t be able to tell much about it because in my mind it all seems like a blur.

I remember walking all over the city, running to catch busses and trains and cursing the fact that the Capital is on a hill (hence Capital Hill) and the city builders penchant for lots and lots of steps.  I remember being caught in a subway door with my mother and two younger children behind me, too afraid to move for fear the door would shut and the train would leave them behind.  I remember waking up at an ungodly hour, 4:45 am, to meet our state representative at the capitol and meeting two students I had been a substitute teacher for in Uxbridge.  Now, I see kids from school all the time around town, but in Washington?  On the plus side, I love these girls and their family is so nice and it really made the day so much better.    

The highlight I’m sure for these girls and certainly for  my own children was not getting to sit on the floor of Congress and listen to Representative Neil speak (my kids fell asleep), but the fact that sometime during our representative’s talk my 18 year old daughter felt the best way to deal with my 9 year old aggravating his sister was to tie the sleeves of his shirt together, behind his back, in a double knot!  So as NORMAL families were following the interns to get their picture taken with Congressman Neil and my husband was pretending not to know us, I was trying to get my son’s sleeves unknotted.  The kids were giggling hysterically and I have to admit so was I.  After the knot was navigated, I gave my adult daughter a stern look and went to smack her lightly on the arm but missed and accidently hit my youngest in the face who cried all the way into the Great Hall.  Yes it was a banner mother moment.

We dragged the kids through museums that even bored me.  In the American History museum, the dresses were pretty, the 1950’s subway was cool (you could sit and watch people talking on a subway,  “sit” being the optimum word here).  I probably would have gotten more out of the National Museum for the American Indian (shouldn’t that be Native American?) if we had more time, but I have to say lunch was beyond Amazing!  Maple Brined Turkey Breast with black cherry chutney and sautéed pea pods with wild mushrooms and onions.  For dessert a chocolate dipped macaroon with chunks of coconut as big and thick as a dime. Fantastic!  I’d go back there just for the food. 

The most well received museum by the children was the Natural History Museum where the kids oohed and ahhed over bugs, butterflies, dinosaurs and mammals.  Somehow I got separated from our large group and wandered around the museum by myself and amid the hundreds of people it suddenly seemed extremely quiet.  I wasn’t talking.  Had I been talking that much?  I guess I had.  I had been the teacher on duty all week, quizzing and teaching in some attempt to engage my tired children and ensure they came away with something from our Nation’s Capital. 

So let’s recap, I am an out of shape, too lenient mother, who is bored by trains and machines but easily distracted by pretty dresses. In addition, I am a loquacious know-it-all who likes real, good, food. It was remarkable to find silence in the middle of so many people.  My mind is always running; what needs to be said next, what needs to be done soon, where are the kids now and do we have them all.  It just keeps coming.  The trip to Washington D.C. is a lot like my own mind.  Crazy, involved, and nonstop, but underneath the chaos there were moments, soft moments, touching moments and moments where seeds of ideas were planted and new thoughts will hopefully bloom.  So yes I am all those things stated above, but I am also a lover of wisdom, a person who chooses to believe in people and someone who approaches life with a good dose of humor and a whole lot of love.  My mind may be as chaotic as Washington DC but my heart is open and my soul is waiting for the next enlightening experience.  It was a really full week. 

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