Ashley and I sat on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. It was November if memory serves me right. It has been so long since we went. For the first time on our entire trip, neither of us had anything to say. We may have been tired from walking constantly throughout the day, but that wasn’t the reason we refrained from speaking.
We sat in silence, unable to decide on the right words for what we were feeling. What was in the air at that moment; what cold was coming in and out of our lungs. When we finally came about to talking again, we agreed on something. We agreed on perspective.
Before the trip I was joking with Ashley about perspective. I was joking that Washington D.C. would show her some perspective. Some god-damn patriotism! We would see Old Glory, we would see the Vietnam Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, the Lincoln, Jefferson, and Washington memorials. The FDR Memorial; the MLK Jr. Memorial. You need some god-damn perspective! I told her. This trip will show you what it’s like to be an AMUURICAN!
We got there and first went to the museums, the various Smithsonians. Humor and enlightenment were lightly abound. I was always enamored with the monuments I saw when I was younger, when I went with my eighth grade class to Washington D.C., and the museums were a side attraction. Art, history, giant animal models. We waited until the second day to go to the memorials we wanted to see. We enjoyed our first day of vacation fully.
We enjoyed all the days of our vacation. Our three day vacation. We went to the memorials. I didn’t remember how large Lincoln really was. Nor did I remember Jefferson, though I did remember how much more I loved his entire memorial. I had not seen the World War II memorial, and found it interesting, though not wholly fascinating, absorbing like the Korean War Memorial or any of the others. It was large, but not enveloping like FDR, Lincoln, Jefferson. We walked through the other memorials we wanted to see, and found ourselves sitting on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial surrounded by groups. Tourists, students, families, brides-to-be. We felt a real perspective we had not felt before that, nor have we been able to fully capture since.
It was a perspective I had hoped to encounter there. A feeling of not only being fully immersed in American History (good, though mostly bad), but also a feeling of immersion in the conflict of immortality and mortality. The conflict inherent in all of us, where we cannot recognize the immortality of actions presented to us at the most important moments of our lives through our own mortality. What meaning does this massive memorial right behind my left shoulder truly mean to the man not much taller than me, long now gone from the Earth. What will this massive memorial mean to the people who may see it and sit here, without perspective or insight into its purpose, merely 400 years from now.
And what truly made these men great. FDR, Lincoln, Washington, MLK Jr., Jefferson, great men all, or good men placed in dire circumstances whom all pressed forward in the right. There is not much to debate here, nor did I consider the debate of the validity of any of their monuments; rather, the debate in my mind was over what each monument truly represented. Each man represented wisdom in their time, and each monument comes from a different time. Was FDR’s memorial a monument to the man, or to what great wisdom did to serve America through the Great Depression and World War II? The same question could be asked of Lincoln and the Civil War: MLK Jr. and the Civil Rights movement. All those who have a monument to their honor, or rather what their honor provided us when we needed it the most.
And selfishly I looked out on the sea of people in front of me. The hundreds I could see at that moment, the countless thousands who were here before us, and know none of us would have a monument so great in our honor. It didn’t bother me to be a part of this mass, and it didn’t bother me so much that I would never have a monument – I’m still undecided on whether or not that would actually even matter to me. It bothered me that no one seemed to take even the slightest moment to consider this. I didn’t see anyone who wasn’t consumed with some other activity on those steps, anyone who stopped to look inside for even a second.
This is not to say I am more enlightened or wiser in any way than they are. I am not. I just happened to have found my perspective on those steps. Maybe they found theirs later, or at another monument.
Now, as I sit far away from these places, these museums, monuments and giants, I find myself sharpening my achievements. Not so much because I haven’t done anything great even if I haven’t; I am cheapening everything around me because I miss that feeling I had sitting on the steps of the Lincoln memorial. I want to go back there and sit until only one of us is left, believing in the passion of doing something greater to help all of those who will never have a monument.
I need more perspective!