Tuesday, January 10, 2017


My siblings and I would spend the whole summer at the rural library, subsisting on air conditioning and literature.  We would ride our bikes up to main street, park our bikes in the rack, and read book after book in the underused, over-firm stuffed chairs.  When we tired of the Babysitter's Club, we'd turn to the nonfiction section and let loose our imaginations.  The book about the Presidents was one of my favorites.  When opened on the table it was the size of a newspaper, with full-page images of painted portraits of each President, and short descriptions of their presidential terms.  I loved to reconcile the portrait with the term, imagining how Tyler's chin-length up-do contributed to his legacy or lack thereof.  Or how the weight of the Civil War seemed to be captured in the portrait of Lincoln.  I puzzled over the presidents who were nearly or actually assassinated, uncomprehending of the passions that could lead to such extreme violence.

Tonight I listened to President Obama's farewell address, and I couldn't help but think about this book of presidential portraits.  What will his portrait look like in the book?  What will the overview say to my grandchildren?  I imagine him smiling on the last page, his legacy not yet defined, having led with an idealism unmatched by any previous president.  If only Michelle could be painted at his side to complete the portrait of his leadership and grace.

In November I was in DC for work and spent an evening with two dear colleagues on the National Mall.  It was a cool, clear night with a full moon, merely a week after the election.  I had felt confused by the election, both by its outcome and by what it would mean for the future of all citizens and would-be citizens.  I also worried about what it would mean for my job, my healthcare, and my childrens' education.  The Mall, however, lifted me up.  I felt grounded by the monuments that Americans have made to commemorate the truly great people and accomplishments in our history.  We have suffered many low points, as any great nation does, but in the end we celebrate the high points.  We will continue to have high points to celebrate.

Me, on the approach to the Washington monument

The moon and the monument

Me, reaching for the top although I cannot see it.  Always reach for the top although you cannot see it.

The monument reflecting on itself as I reflect on it, by the light of the moon
After our fill of the Washington monument, we made our way through the World War II memorial.  With intention I walked around the pond, placing each foot on the stones around the perimeter.  So much fighting to free the oppressed and to protect democracy.  And a turning point for women, who were essential for the war effort.  
Inscription on the WWII memorial
 Then we walked the steps up to the Lincoln memorial.  The hall was solemn despite the 50-odd tourists who occupied the space.  People arranged photos in hushed voices, not wanting to disturb the meditations of others.  Lincoln, who for all his imperfections held this country together and laid the foundations for freedoms that we are still working to perfect.
What is he trying to say?
 It was getting late, and we had walked a great distance, but I felt that I needed to visit Martin Luther King Jr.  One of my colleagues had never seen his memorial, and it felt wrong to skip it on what by now felt like a pilgrimage to renew our faith in our country.  Dr. King's memorial is my favorite because I find it incredible that his statue is displaced from the mountain of rock behind him despite a chunk of the mountain remaining attached to his back.  The symbolism is overwhelming.  This was my first time beholding it at night.  I hope to always behold it at night.
What would he say now?
The next morning was absolute perfection, and I had discovered that the Iwo Jima memorial was just across the street from my hotel.  An impulse I couldn't ignore beckoned me to the statue that morning, so I skipped breakfast, checked out, and dragged my roller suitcase to the memorial with only 17 minutes before my shuttle was to arrive.  I regret not waking up an hour early so that I could sit with it for awhile.  Perhaps I am biased because my husband was a U.S. Marine, but I was awed by the statue.  It is bigger than I imagined, bigger than it looks in pictures.  It's as tall as my 2-story house, plus the flag.  And the faces of the men at that scale.  Their faces.  My eyes mist over thinking about it.

For their country, even though they might not ever see it again.  
All of these monuments to commemorate freedom from monarchy, freedom from oppression, freedom from slavery, freedom from authoritarianism.  Do we remember our history enough to avoid repeating it?  The monument makers urge us to remember.

In summary, which I say only to trick you into thinking I actually have some way to summarize my thoughts, tonight the President said that, "...presuming a reservoir of goodness in other people is a risk..."  I am ready to go forward and take that risk.

I suppose that this post is ill-placed on a cancer blog, but I guess I had something to say.