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Last summer my family decided to spend our vacation in D.C.
Having travelled to Washington a lot for work, I’ll admit this was far from my first-choice destination.
Still….inspired by the presidential election, the hubs and I decided our kids should know a bit more about U.S. history – which is how we found ourselves braving the mid-June heat and dragging our poor, exhausted children from one end of the city to the other.
While our boys are at an age where visiting a museum feels like a form of punishment, I was completely awed in ways I didn’t expect.
Remember after 9/11 when everyone suddenly remembered what it meant to be American again? That was the feeling I carried around D.C. It was a heavy dose of pride mixed with a strong, uncontrollable emotion that often came in waves.
What I learned from our vacation is that you can’t really understand the United States unless you visit Washington as an adult.
Like millions of students before me, I thought I’d experienced the Lincoln Memorial because I visited once on a sixth grade patrol trip.
I saw the Lincoln Memorial on that trip. I experienced it for the first time this summer, having learned in the interim that Lincoln wasn’t just a man – he was the man who warned a bitter, petulant nation about the horrors of Civil War, and then patched up the wounds when it failed to listen.
Likewise, what I saw three decades ago as a flag was suddenly transformed into the flag – the one famously “still there” to provide inspiration for the Star Spangled Banner.
I could go on, but the point is that history has a way of reminding us that our struggles have only made us stronger in the end.
Also, in light of current events, it’s been helpful to remember that when it comes to the moments that have really shaped who we are as a society, a stroll through any museum demonstrates that we tend to honor the people who made it happen, not the president. In other words, for every one photo of President Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act, there’s a hundred more of the men and women who were on the front lines of that movement.
Case in point: Do you know who was president when women got the right to vote? Me either.
And perhaps a hundred years from now, kids who visit the Smithsonian won’t remember that Barack Obama was president when marriage equality became law of the land. As with everything else, for every one photo of the White House covered in rainbow, there will be hundreds more of everyday citizens who cared enough to demand equal rights under the law.
This is the America we know – and given all that history has to teach us – we have no right or reason to believe any generation would have anything less than a messy evolution.
So whether you’re jubilant or distraught this week, take heart. When the dust settles – as it always does – love wins in the end. It may take us a while to get there but, hey, what else is new?