Sunday, February 10, 2013

Loitering in High Places

My work takes me to Washington, D.C. every now and again and, whenever I can, I like to squeeze in a little sightseeing.  Over the years I have managed to visit most of the major monuments and museums. One of my favorite spots is Arlington Cemetery. I go there every time.  Haven’t been to the Ford Theatre yet. I definitely want to see that sometime.

I think the reason I love to visit Washington so much is that I love to not just see but to actually occupy historic places, to stand in the very spot where something significant has happened.  Standing at the lectern in Arlington’s empty amphitheater and looking out at the empty seats, I cannot help but think of the important people who have delivered speeches from this very spot. The Capitol building is another favorite place. I stop at the Rotunda’s center, as if on cue, thinking about the presidents who had laid in state in the same square footage as my body is now occupying. From the balcony I look over the chambers of the House of Representatives, thinking about the significance of this room: debates, votes, State of the Union addresses. On one occasion I remember the tour guide told me I was standing in the very spot where John Quincy Adams suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and died. Wow. On another occasion my family was given a private, unrushed tour of the West Wing of the White House. The Oval Office and the Cabinet Room, standing outside the Situation Room (OK, so I couldn’t convince them to let me in that room), even the West Wing lunch room... my brain buzzed that day, thinking about all the history that had taken place in this very place. Countless secret service agents have talked into their sleeves because of my love of loitering in high places.

I do it in Haiti too.  I cannot cross the sea from mainland to La Gonave without thinking about the swashbuckling buccaneers that also sailed across these very waters. I stand in a tiny missionary home wondering what missionary heroes have called this place home. I take it in: touching their walls, breathing their air.

One has to wonder what ordinary places of today will someday be considered extraordinary and historic. I pray one of them is an island called La Gonave.

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