Recently I resolved to spend less time on Instagram. I knew I loved it because I was able to interact visually with my world, but I began to spend my down time when I wanted to think just scrolling through the app. This time, I realized, was handicapping my thoughts as much as it was using my time (and my parent’s data). Instead, I resolved to write down an experience every time I felt I wanted to share it online, in an effort to practice my writing and face my thoughts. Today, it was a moment by the Lincoln Memorial.
Sitting at the Lincoln Memorial writing for the first time in a very long time. I just left a meeting with Philippe Leroux-Martin at the US Institute of Peace, which was fantastic. Before describing that, though, I’d prefer to describe this scene. It’s overcast, hasn’t stopped raining in Washington for at least three days. The Washington Monument is ringed with deep grey clouds, touches of blue – an elusive navy – lining the bottom of the cumulonimbi. People – hundreds of them – make the climb from the reflecting pool to Lincoln. I just made that climb, forgot how steep the stairs were and how awe-inspiring Lincoln is- his pure mass stuns you to silence as you stare into his marble eyes. Now I’m sitting on the surrounding walls flanking the stairs, a strong breeze threatening to blow away the coffee Philippe bought me but also wicking away the sweat that inevitably comes with a humid DC summer.
The people are so diverse. An Asian girl just offered to take my picture, said I “look cool.” Two twin Black boys, age six approximately, dressed in matching outfits of red shorts and black and white striped tees chase their mother in circles. A little white girl with a pet stuffed puppy is dancing up and down the stairs, an older, brunette Shirley Temple nearly a century later. A beautiful, stunning girl, perhaps 17, walked past me, conventionally beautiful, no makeup but a radiance displaying a good life, an enviable ease and eloquence elusive to most. There are photographers, joggers, tourists, parents, students. One man dressed entirely in Coca-Cola branding. I am grateful that I don’t see red baseball caps, that emblem of populism and poverty. It would make me angry, and sad, to see.
If I look across the Mall, to my left, I follow my gaze slowly. First the Reflecting Pool, which stuns me when I realize I forgot how beautiful and graceful the reflection of the Washington Monument in the water is (a bird chirps beside me, I am certain we will be friends. I have named him Frederick). Flanked by wide, forested promenades, the pool leads to the WWII memorial seamlessly, rising up a sloping hill to the two-toned Washington Monument, piercing the sky and effectively eliminating skyscrapers in this city, my city. (helicopters speed through a cloud of birds, both flying with purpose but oh! so differently!)
Beyond the Washington I see the Capitol, which looks so much closer than it is, I know. One day I will wake up at five, walk the length of the entire Mall (a variation on a theme, sans the Claires and Forever 21 and Auntie Anne’s cinnamon pretzels) before the sun, eating breakfast before arriving at the Library of Congress as it opens. Not this day – but certainly one day.
The Capitol is beautiful, awe-inspiring, a symbol, filled with all those things I hate and love most about America, my country, my home. Laws are made there, have been made there, laws that free people and oppress them, gave them opportunity or take it, strengthen or break them. Built by the people, for the people (of the people?) it does not always protect the people. But it could, it was built to do that, and I think the fight to fill it with those who respect the narrative of the average person is one of the most enduring and powerful promises of America.
(a group of Brits just spent ten minutes taking a picture of the Washington Monument as if it were one boy’s erect dick, while another boy pretended to suck it – meanwhile, two girls have sat down on the steps below me and are writing A Letter to God. Different forms of inspiration, I suppose).
Beyond the Capitol, slightly to the right, is the green glass dome of the Library of Congrss, one of my favorite places in Washington.
(Frederick’s feathers are ruffled by the wind and drizzle making him a grizzled little friendly fellow. Perhaps he knows how adorable he is).
It turns out that a whole Youth Group has to write these Letters to God, thirteen at least by my count. All the boys wrote theirs in five minutes, are not writing anymore. All the girls are writing still, have been writing for a long time, with no indication that they will stop soon. I wonder what they are saying, to that God that puts such different expectations on girls, to wait, to be demure, less than, obedient, to be pure, to give of yourself, to give away yourself, purity is a gift it is whole you are broken if you are not subservient – to expectations, to God, to men. A God that makes you question yourself consistently, apologize constantly, doubt always. That reminds you that your task is to be desired so that you can be taken. That you must be protected. That your autonomy is something that does not belong to yourself.
I hope they do not have this experience, do not believe these things. To Wait for Puberty then Wait for a Husband then Wait for Heaven. A life of waiting for someone or something else’s validation. That is no life for me.