On Sunday the 21st, I spent the afternoon at the National Mall. I had been once before, five years ago, my first time in DC. That was right before the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial was dedicated, and the Reflecting Pool in front of the Lincoln Memorial was being renovated. So for this trip I had some goals. I also wanted to see the Jefferson and Korean War Memorials, a lot on tap for a few hours in the capitol.
I want to preface this post by noting that I am not a political sort, nor am I especially keen on historical markers. But for some inexplicable reason, I find this end of the Mall so moving. Not sure if I’ll get to the other end, maybe one day. My hosts and I discussed that if I return next summer, Arlington Cemetery would be our destination, perhaps the Holocaust Museum too. But for this day, we began at the Jefferson Memorial, and would wind our way toward Lincoln.
So, Thomas Jefferson…. He’s lost some luster over the years, but one can’t deny his accomplishments. This memorial is less than one hundred years old, which surprised all within my party, although it feels as old as the Washington Monument. I was struck by the views of course, the largess of Jefferson’s statue, but what hit me hardest was one of the quotes along the wall.
I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions. But laws and constitutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind.
Not sure how many folks fully grasp the power behind that statement. Of course, taking photos at the Mall means capturing tourists, and we all had our reasons for being there. I do hope some took a moment to read Jefferson’s words, reflecting upon that and other vital truths.
Words were everywhere we went, next to the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial. This is a rambling memorial, covering FDR’s four terms in office. I loved the waterfalls, appreciated Eleanor’s inclusion, snapping shots of most of FDR’s quotes. I don’t know if today’s youth can properly grasp the Depression’s effect worldwide, nor the magnitude of WWII. But there is plenty of food for thought, if one is willing to seek it.
As we approached the MLK Memorial, I photographed quotations which lead up to the monument. Again, time is necessary to read over King’s messages; it’s one thing to know who these figures were, another to understand their impact upon society.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.
Intriguing to contrast King with Jefferson, both seeking freedom, yet one was a slaveholder. Changes in laws and constitutions must be enacted to ensure our continued advancement as worthwhile human beings.
In reaching the Korean War Memorial, my thoughts were twofold; admiring the sculptures, also taking mental notes; the Korean War figures into my WIP, one of the reasons I wanted to see it. The sculptures are magnificent, bringing home the corporeal message of battle; they were fashioned by Frank Gaylord, himself a veteran of WWII. I imagined characters from The Hawk standing amid the juniper bushes, then pondered the number of US dead from that conflict, over 54,000 people lost. (As an aside, that was over the course of just three years. A similar number of lives were lost in Vietnam over the span of two decades.)
After that, my friends and I had a bite to eat at the nearby refreshment stand. I still wanted to trek over to the Lincoln Memorial for pictures of the renovated Reflecting Pool. We split into two groups, one which would fetch the car, while my group would wait near the Korean War Memorial, preferably on a bench under a lovely grove of trees. And that was what happened, slightly interrupted by an impromptu rain shower. Visiting the National Mall stirs many considerations, which are still with me days later. I pleaded my West Coast upbringing more than once, was that why these memorials touch me so deeply? Is it the history behind those honored, their convictions and sacrifices?
Maybe it’s a mix of all those notions alongside the appreciation for merely seeing these monuments. Usually I spend my time in my little corner, but how fantastic to step into another, and within those acres find myself transported many years in the past as well as to a foreign land. As a writer, I want to soak up myriad experiences so my characters ring as true as possible. But as a human being, lifelong learning is a must, for as Jefferson also said: We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.
I look forward one day to accompanying my grandchildren to these monuments, sharing with them my gratitude for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And if we’re caught together in a thunderstorm, all the better. We’ll chat about the day Grandma first saw Jefferson and Martin Luther King together, and just what that truly means.