If you’re keeping track, I’m still on Day Two of my recent trip, which was really just Day One of the sightseeing. After the Awakening (see last post), we went to Mt. Vernon where I learned more about George Washington than I’d ever known before and was moved at the standard he set for all subsequent leaders of our nation, a standard not many have lived up to since and which, I suppose, might be glorified by time.
Mt. Vernon, the Visitor’s Center says, introduces guests to the royal George Washington, his tremendous hospitality and his resourcefulness. In the final room of our walk-through tour of the mansion, I heard a docent say, “Why do people spread rumors about the cherry trees and the wooden teeth?” George Washington was a wonderful man and a wonderful leader. His example set the stage for the democracy we know today. “That’s the history to hold onto.”It was really beautiful to hear someone speak so passionately about our first president, to hear someone put so much heart into their job.
It was a strange thing to stroll the grounds and outbuildings of Mt. Vernon and realize that our founding father had slaves, a practice that would add to a great and terrible division decades later that would lead to the Civil War and eventually to a country that can hardly fathom the justification for slavery at all. It made me wonder what we generally accept as a culture today that we’ll one day regret so thoroughly.
The rest of this day was extremely full. We visited the Newseum with its tribute to headlines and the heroic journalists who capture them, its exhibits including a portion of the Berlin wall – filled with graffiti on one side, ominously blank on the other – and a display for 9/11.
We raced through the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History and the American History Museum. I saw the Hope Diamond, an elephant leg, Dorothy’s ruby slippers, and Michelle Obama’s inaugural gown – among other delightful things. Our goal was an overview, and that’s what we got. But we were often inspired, astounded, fascinated, or even moved to tears.
We also went to the top of the Old Post Office and walked in and out of the beautiful buildings, the courtyards between them, and the magnificent archways and shadows created by their stunning architecture. Washington DC didn’t look like I expected it to. I had pictured only the National Mall with its wide open spaces and occasional giant memorials. There was such an array of buildings that towered over me, though. I had expected to be in awe, but the expectation was nothing compared to the fact.
I think it’s cool that some people get a tour like this in eighth grade. I mean, that’s basically what we do as a company. I was a little jealous of the eighth graders around me in fact. But then again, I was pretty sure not one of them felt the depth of what they were seeing like my group did. We may not be fresh from eighth grade Civics or American History, but we’ve had so many years to alternately love our country and to take it for granted, to worry where it’s headed and thank God for what it’s survived. We watch every day as its founding principles are debated, argued over, poorly applied, misunderstood, praised, honored, and studied. We’re not kids growing up in a free country; we’re adults trying to raise kids in it. We’d been looking forward to these experiences for weeks, years, a lifetime. In that sense, the eighth graders should have been jealous of us.
In the evening we went to a show at the Kennedy Center, where I marveled at the great hall and wondered how many times presidents had walked through it. Then we stood on the balcony and watched the sun set over the Potomac about which I sent my mother this message.
And then the heavens opened up, and God said, ‘I love you, Serenity.’