washington (2)

One of coolest things about my current employer is the D.C. office. It’s not the office, per se, but the opportunity to visit to this city every few months. In the spring of 2010, it was for the first time in more than thirty years. Immediately I remembered why I love this city. Each visit of the past two years has been a sweet blend of memories and exploration.

For the visitor, the city has a great vibe. There are the hip, young professionals hustling to navigate the labyrinth of government and politics. Young families, out and about. Great delis and fine food. Lots of street vendors and local characters. Tourists from everywhere but most often, it seems, school-age youngsters in matching t-shirts and big bus loads of Chinese with 35mm DSL cameras slung around their necks.

I vividly remember visiting as a middle-schooler with my family in the 1970s. My mother’s sister lived at the Old Soldier’s Home, where her husband was an administrator. It was a beautiful gated enclave within the city where we felt safe, although the occasional distant gunshot might be heard. My uncle was the consummate host and facilitated a comprehensive historical heritage tour.

We visited the Jefferson, Lincoln, and Washington Memorials, Mount Vernon, Arlington and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. I bumped my head in an embarrassingly loud bonk on the glass enclosing artifacts at the Smithsonian. Life-sized historical figures looked so real I forgot myself! I think we toured the White House and Capitol, too. We covered a lot of ground in the February chill.

Returning as an adult, my first order of business was the Vietnam Wall. I remember the painful period of conflict and resistance to war and its ripple effect long after soldiers returned home. Then the hub-bub surrounding a long overdue design and creation of a memorial, resurfacing intensely conflicting feelings. Even now, emotions are raw as relatives and friends of long-deceased locate names etched in stone and leave small flags and mementos at the base.

The list grows longer, The Wall grows higher, as the war wages on in time. It shortens, slowly, as conflict draws to a close. I don’t know why it seems more sad to be among those sacrificed at the very end, when outcomes were so clear. To be among those determined expendable for any reason and especially by class or race is tragic. The Wall is a quiet, respectful space; a sobering reminder of the costs of conflict.

~René Morley

Read also Washington, part 1

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