A couple of weeks ago I had a tough day at the end of a tough week, the kind of day that brings to mind the well-worn and oft-misquoted advice, “If you want a friend in this town, get a dog.”
I don’t have a dog to talk me down from this nattering nabob of negativity, so I did the next best thing: I took a walk.
You should see this in person. It’s awe-inspiring.
It’s only a few blocks to the White House, but I don’t take that walk as often as I’d like. When I passed that way, my mood started to brighten.
I love walking past the White House.
Visitors from all over the world come here to stand at its fences and look at that building that I take for granted twice a day as I drive past.
I also love the view of the Capitol Dome looking east down Pennsylvania Avenue. To me, it’s almost majestic.
I headed past Freedom Plaza, where the gnarly skateboarders have returned to replace the Occupy DC camp and down through the archway at Woodrow Wilson Plaza toward the Smithsonian buildings on Constitution.
And there it was: the Washington Monument.
There is something about the sight of the Washington Monument that takes me back to a grade-school field trip. Our lunch break for that year’s outing was a picnic on the grounds surrounding the monument.
I remember a beautiful day, with people flying kites. I had a bologna sandwich, with American cheese and mustard — plain old yellow mustard, none of that brown junk — on white bread. A very 1970s American bag lunch.
The perfect setting for a bologna and cheese sandwich.
I think that’s the day I fell in love with this town and looking at the monument, even on a dark, chilly night, takes me back to that beautiful, sunny day.
On the return route from my walk that night, I passed what looked and sounded like a revival tent set up on the Ellipse, between the monument and the White House.
A policeman quietly sat guard while those in the tent sang and danced and praised. I love that they were free to exercise their freedoms of religion and speech and that he was there to protect that as much as he was there to protect that important residence just across the field.
When I saw the White House from the south side, its gardens and fountains lit against the night sky, I felt this sense of awe that always comes back to me. I slip into a moment of silence, an almost prayer.
I don’t know why. I just do.
On my way back I thought about this election season and what many regard as the “ugliest” presidential campaign “ever.” I disagree. It hasn’t been pretty, to be sure, but I don’t think it’s been necessarily uglier than any other.
Maybe I’ve tuned it out. Maybe there are just more access points for those who are technologically tuned in. Maybe I see ugliness, mean-spiritedness, excessive self-interest everywhere.
We Americans are obsessed with catfights and reality show “alliances,” blood-sucking vampires and flesh-eating zombies.
We disregard rules for our own convenience all the time. So why wouldn’t our elected representatives reflect those values and mores?
There are hard-working, well-intentioned leaders here, too. They just aren’t shiny enough to be noticed, and sadly, too many have given up and gone home.
A plaque on the front of a building near the White House reads:
In essentials, unity;
In doubtful matters, liberty;
In all things, charity.
It really struck me as an appropriate thought so I looked it up when I got back.
The quote has been attributed to St. Augustine, but scholars have identified a more complex history, which you can read about by clicking here. Regardless of who first said it, there must be a reason it has stood the test of time.
I took a walk again last night. On the north side of the White House, a dozen or so Occupy protesters were watched over by the same police force protecting the same freedoms and expressions of the singing, dancing worshippers at David’s Tent on the other side, still keeping vigil on the Ellipse.
We get the government we deserve.
It is undoubtedly a tough town and there are many days when you wonder if even your dog likes you, but then there are nights when you take a stroll and encounter visitors who come from all over this world to see these places for the history and the freedoms they represent.
I know the prevailing attitude toward Washington DC isn’t terribly positive these days. There are days when I’ve had just about enough of it, too. As I walked around last night and passed by people from all walks of life, and then stood in line this morning to vote, alongside people with whom I may agree or disagree, I have been reminded of my great fortune in working in this town and being a citizen of this country.
This election day seemed like as good a time as any to share these things with you. If you haven’t yet voted, I hope you will. It’s the best way to make a difference and it’s very American — kind of like a bologna and cheese sandwich.
(P.S. I still believe the line about the dog.)