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Blistered Feet and a Full Heart
November 3rd, 2010

We flew into Reagan.  As the plane began its final descent I could first see the Washington Monument.  Then the Capitol.  Then the Lincoln Memorial.  Then the Jefferson.  And then, just as we veered right toward the runway I caught a sliver of a glimpse of The White House.  I pointed.  I oohed and aahed.  I acted like a kid on a field trip.  Truth be told… I totally geeked out. 

In four days we took in a lot of territory.  We saw the Phillips Collection, the National Gallery, The White House, the Library of Congress, the World War II, Lincoln, Vietnam War, Korean War, FDR, and Jefferson Memorials, the National Cathedral, Georgetown, the Holocaust Museum, the Stewart/Colbert rally, the Air and Space Museum, the Museum of American History, and Arlington National Cemetery.

By the end of the trip my feet were blistered and my mind and heart were full.  And while I’m sure I could wax philosophic about the grandeur and significance of our nation’s capitol, there were two small moments that, for me, most aptly captured the essence of our country.  So, with that in mind, here are the two stories of those two moments.

The Sunset

After we left the rally GAP and I made a pass through Museum of American History.  We left the museum as it was closing at 5:30 and decided to go back by the Vietnam and Korean War Memorials in daylight.  (We had seen them once late at night, but I wanted to find a name on the wall that I missed in the dark.)  We walked back through both and had started to turn north to head back to our hotel for a breather before dinner. 

For no apparent reason I glanced over my shoulder and noticed a brilliant orange and pink sunset forming on the horizon.  I tried to take a couple of pictures but my view was blocked by a traffic light.  GAP asked if I wanted to go back to the Lincoln Memorial and take pictures from the back of it.  Genius!  We hustled up the steps, past the many post-rally-ers, and around to the back so that I could capture the sunset before the light faded.  While I fiddled with my shutter speed GAP sat down to wait for me.  And when I finished I joined him. 

With my photo flurry behind me I down-shifted a couple of gears.  I took a deep breath.  My shoulders relaxed.  And I looked around.  There were probably 20 of us back there, scattered across the back of the memorial, just sitting.  There were a few small groups, one or two other couples, and a few people by themselves.  Everyone was still.  No one talked much.  And we all watched the deeply colored orange light fade to pink, and then purple, and then grey.  As I looked around at my fellows sunset watchers I thought, “We live in a country where we are permitted to crawl all over our national monuments.  We are allowed to come here and commune in whatever manner best suits us.  We are welcome here day and night.  We are welcome in groups or alone.  We are welcome to come and learn, or to come and watch the sun set.”  I felt so privileged in that moment, to be a citizen of a country whose most precious treasures are not kept behind gates or fences.  There are no admission fees or invitations.  All that is needed is the desire to be there, and you are welcome to do so, in nearly any way that pleases you.


The Marine Corps Marathon

I had it in my head that Sunday morning would be a peaceful time to visit Arlington National Cemetery.  On any other Sunday I think I might have been right.  On this particular Sunday I neglected to account for the fact that the Marine Corps Marathon finish line was stationed adjacent to the cemetery at the base of the Iwo Jima Memorial statue.  It was a little bit of a zoo.  However, the chaos was a blessing in disguise. 

After having breakfast with a dear friend in Rosslyn, GAP and I took one look at the Rosslyn metro station (packed to the gills with 10K race finishers) and decided to walk to the cemetery entrance.  We meandered through the orange event fencing and eventually reached the finish line.  We arrived just in time to hear the winner announced over the loudspeaker, and to watch the 3rd through 10th place finishers run the last quarter mile of the race. 

The runners were dog tired.  The final lengths of the course were steep uphill.  Scattered amongst the runners were a few three-wheeled cycles ridden by handicapped entrants.  That final hill was especially brutal for them.   The path was lined two and three people deep with fans.  And the grounds were teeming with uniformed Marines. 

On the back side of the finish line I saw a runner who’d just completed his race.  His limbs were long and sinewy (as most marathoners’ are).  His shoulders drooped, his knees were buckled, and he was supported on either side by two, giant, hulking Marines.  As I watched this trio of men – two incredibly strong, and one incredibly weak – slowly walk to the First Aid tent I started to cry.  Yes, it was an exhausted athlete at the end of 26.2 miles rather than the victim of a Middle Eastern roadside bomb.  Nevertheless, I watched these highly trained men do one of the very things it is their job to do: help people.  Just as I’ve seen images of service men and women cradling injured victims in some of the most blighted corners of the world, so did I watch these Marines take the same care with this man.  Seeing such tenderness out of such men whom I know can also deliver such force moved me in a way that was both surprising and undeniable. 


While I love my country, as a rule I am not inclined to believe that it is better than any other merely because it is mine.  Nonetheless, this trip left me saturated with both pride and gratitude.

3 Responses to “Blistered Feet and a Full Heart”

  1. TheKitchenWitch Says:

    DC does inspire pride, doesn’t it? I don’t often feel it, but I feel it there. Arlington gave me goosebumps. Awesome pic at the top!

  2. Jan Says:

    This country is better. Not because it’s yours, but because it’s ours. Remember how the Preamble begins: “We, the People..” When the words were written and the constitution was enacted by votes of the people, it was an extraordinary accomplishment. This doesn’t mean I think I am better than any other human being living elsewhere. But, yes, it does mean I think this country is better.

  3. Eva @ EvaEvolving Says:

    Wow, you did cover a lot of ground! I especially love your story of the beautiful sunset and the emotion it inspired. It seems there’s something magical about DC. Just being there, amidst so much history, primes you to notice something you would have otherwise missing. To feel something you didn’t recognize. It’s really so powerful.