Our Nation's Capital
I recently had the opportunity to visit Washington, DC for the first time. Having never been there before, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. I am, by nature, a rather patriotic person, but I'm also quite the small town boy. I love history, but I hate being a tourist. As luck would have it, I quite enjoyed my brief stay in our nation's capital.
You may think that much of what I have to say in the rest of this piece is hokey, strange, or at least uninformed; I can base my opinions on nothing more than my own experiences. But, like people, places have a certain quality, call it spirit or, if you prefer, personality, that can be sensed if you are open to it.
Washington is a beautiful city. It is beautiful in a way that Los Angeles never has been, and probably never will be. Like New York, it has that rather stately feeling of an East Coast city that knows its age and the respect that it is due. Yet where New York is vibrant and exciting, Washington has a sense of understated dignity that I found humbling. It is a city that is fully aware of its history and of the symbolism inherent in its very being.
I don't normally enjoy doing touristy things. I like to try to blend in wherever I go. I don't always, or even often, succeed, but I try. Washington was a different experience for me. I found myself trying to visit as many monuments and memorials as I could. I drove all over the downtown area, saw the Mall, the Washington Monument, drove past the Smithsonian museums, the Capitol, the White House. I didn't get a chance to walk around and really experience most--I was in the area for less than twenty-four hours--but I think that many of the attractions just need to be seen. The one place I did get out and explore was the Arlington National Cemetary. I'm glad I did.
As you enter the cemetary, there is a sign that informs you that you are entering the nation's most sacred shrine, and reminds you to conduct yourself with dignity and respect. Periodically, there are signs that say, "Silence. Respect." Here's the amazing thing: people read and obey the signs. The cemetary is not silent, but it is an exceptionally quiet place. I've noticed that certain outdoor places have a certain strange acoustic property wherein sound does not resonate. The Mojave Desert is one such place. The Arlington National Cemetary is another. Sound seems to be swallowed up by the air; you can hardly even hear your own footfalls.
The cemetary is a place of awesome dignity, but one place above the rest sticks with me: the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers. The Tomb stands before the Memorial Amphitheater, looking out over the hills and the river toward the capital. A lone sentry stands guard, pacing back and forth in front of the tomb. The only sound, apart from the occasional bird call, is the click of his heels as he turns. The tomb bears this inscription:
IN HONORED GLORY
AN AMERICAN SOLDIER
KNOWN BUT TO GOD
As I read these words and looked out over the city I couldn't help but get a lump in my throat. These were ordinary people, as much so as you and I, who gave the ultimate sacrifice for their country and their way of life. It is a poignant reminder that this land was built and sustained by the hopes, dreams, sweat, and, sometimes, blood of such people.