I arrived in Washington last night on a bus out of New York. It was already dark as we entered the District of Columbia; even inauguration weekend, the road we took into the city gave little indication that we have just entered our nation’s capitol. It’s just a congested two-lane street cramped with hotels and gas stations.
And then for a moment off in the distance we could see the Capitol building. Coming from this direction, it was the only prominent landmark in sight. And quickly it was obscured by more proximate buildings, but turns often brought it back into view. I have seen the building myself many times before, both from far away and up close. Even so, I found myself looking down each new street, wanting to catch another glimpse of that white lamp in the night.
And seeing it from this distance and direction put it in a different context, the way that from here it’s a light that shines in the midst of a field of darkness. I found myself wandering back through some of the more difficult events of the last eight years -- the turmoil of the 2000 election; the intense partisanship that followed; the terrorist attacks of 2001; the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq; Abu Ghraib; wiretapping; waterboarding; Hurricane Katrina; the subprime mortgage crisis; economic collapse.
But the thing that hit me as I sat in my little front row seat on this el cheapo bus and caught another glimpse, is that each night of the last eight years, that light of the Capitol has continued to shine. No matter what the events of our country have been, what we’ve endured, even when we ourselves may have done or not done as a country, that beacon has remained.
And not as a memorial. Unlike many of the structures of Washington, the Capitol is not a memorial to any one person, period or achievement. It has a storied history, it bespeaks the work of many hands over many generations, but the Capitol is first and foremost a place where people in the present are building the future of our country and our world. It is active and alive.
Heady thoughts from the Greyhound...