The lights in D.C. never went out at night last week as officials scramble to prepare for a default over the debt crisis. Many things are going wrong in Washington, but there is still so much to celebrate about this city and the ideals it represents.
The words engraved on this monument touched me deeply as I stood outside the National Archives building: “The heritage of the past is the seed that brings forth the harvest of the future.” This building was the cherry on top of this trip to D.C. The temperature outside the Archive Building was 100 with a heat index of 114, and the lines inside were long, but it was all worth it to see the new exhibit of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.
I know I’ve said it before, but a sacred spirit envelopes the places and documents of liberty. I felt it so strongly there, and I wasn’t the only one. A large group of well-dressed high school-age youth were in line ahead of me, waiting to enter the Rotunda where the documents are on display. They were talking and texting and flirting while the line inched forward, but as soon as they crossed into the Rotunda, a hush came over them too. They whispered their awe as they pointed to the signatures of Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Madison, Franklin and Hancock—men so revered they’re almost mythical. It was an incredible cap on my week.
On Thursday, I visited the Smithsonian Institute’s National Air and Space Museum on the National Mall on the day of the Space Shuttle Atlantis’s final touchdown, to speak with parents and youth about the significance of the end of the shuttle program and this date in aeronautical history. I walked away buoyed by their enthusiasm and vision of the future.
I’ve been to DC many times with family, on school trips and with friends, but this was the first time I’ve ever gone alone, walking the city at my own pace, seeing whatever the spirit led me to. It was wonderful. I heard dozens of tongues and dialects spoken by diverse people from many lands, reminding me that Washington is a global city.
Two moments touched me deeply. One occurred at the White House, the other at the Washington Monument. Both drove a point deep into my heart—that despite the troubles looming in government, this is a city of hope, a light on a hill for people everywhere.
I was interviewing people, asking them about their impressions of the city when I saw this beautiful mother pushing a stroller with two children in it—a baby and a three year-old. I asked her what brought her to the city and she replied, “My daughter wanted to see where Barack Obama lives.” As they neared the gate and caught their first view of the south side of the White House, three-year-old Maya squealed, “That’s Barack Obama’s house!”
Politics aside, I caught the excitement President Obama still represents to many people. This was very personal to this family, and it pulled me from my small town, conservative platform and helped me acknowledge the importance his presence in the White House represents to many.
The other moment reminded me how interconnected we all are. It was blazing hot, and at the edge of the Ellipse a perforated hose had been set out, providing a cool sprinkler for overheated tourists. A Chinese family played in the cool mist, running back and forth and squealing as the cold wetness hit them. A mounted Park Police Officer rode over, allowing the children an up close glimpse of his horse between runs through the mist. It captured so many aspects of this wonderful city.
I turned to cross the street to walk to the Washington Monument and I saw a Muslim family, including several fully-draped women posing in the heat for photos on the walkway. A moment later I witnessed what was for me a stunning moment when a Chinese woman offered to take a group photo of the women. So there we had it—a Chinese woman taking a photo of a Muslim family as they stood before the flag-surrounded Washington Monument. It was an iconic image. You couldn’t script a better moment.
I love this city. I love what it represents, and no matter what happens, the ideals are alive in America’s people and in the people who still look to that light on “the Hill.”