Thursday, March 30, 2006

And the prize goes to ...

How to tell the story ... particularly when I'm still so caught up in the wonder of it all?

Wide-eyed granddaughter, Kokee (young "Miss Ginglehopper), and I met Molly (NWHP Executive Director) at the Oakland airport at the ungodly hour of 5:00 am for the 6:50 flight to Washington. It was comforting to see her since I was taking off with no idea of what would happen once we landed in Baltimore and not even which hotel we'd be staying in for the next several days. Having been in Los Angeles until less than 24 hours before, all of the instructions for the flight to the east coast were sitting on the hard drive of my office computer and I was quite literally flying blind! Molly couldn't know that I'd not received word of the arrangements. It all worked out.

We arrived five hours later after a relatively smooth flight across country, and took the shuttle to the Hyatt Grand Hotel -- and how grand it was!

Martha Lee had arrived a bit earlier and called our room to announce plans for the evening. She picked us up in a borrowed Prius (terrific), and we headed for the Japanese Internment memorial. It was so moving ... even with the water features turned off for fear of freezing. With most of the tourists gone for the day and the tour buses gone to wherever tour buses spend their nights -- we had the streets to ourselves. We then visited the Washington Monument and thrilled at the sight of the lagoon under the night skies -- envisioning Martin Luther King's timeless oration -- and the great Marian Anderson's defiant concert at Lincoln's feet with Eleanor Roosevelt at her side in that shameful but triumphant event meant to shame the Daughters of the American Revolution, and did.

We walked silently through the Vietnam Memorial alongside the late night visitors who were equally and quietly trying to cope with the countless names of those whose lives were sacrificed in that duplicitous war that saw the erosion of faith in our leaders that has never quite healed. Not too far away is a most astounding memorial to the veterans of the Korean war -- those dimly-lit larger than life figures of a company of fighting men on the field of battle. They stand in various poses in full battle regalia with guns drawn and fear and courage etched into their faces. They are chalk-white and bring death chillingly close -- especially when visited in the sequence of Lincoln (Civil War), the names of the Vietnam War dead, and then -- those of the Korean "Police Action."

It was at the Korean Memorial that I first started to experience the disturbing sense of our nation's glorification of war -- and though that may be an over-statement -- it is nonetheless real. We'd not yet visited those places where some of that might be mitigated by the softness of the arts and science (the Smithsonians, the Space Museum, the National Archives, the Supreme Court, etc.) and the feeling that we were simply about war and the sacrificing of young lives came to the forefront and I couldn't shake it off until far into a sleepless night. Those feelings would again overwhelm me while standing on the steps of Arlington House overlooking the eternal flame at the Kennedy graves and the endless field of the stark white grave markers of those whose lives have been sacrificed to a succession of wars that continues to this day.

Maybe tomorrow it would be different. After all -- this was only the first evening and the next day would bring the NWHP celebration at the historic Hay Adams hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue (across the street from the White House), and the company of the other wayfarers with whom we share the planet, the nation, and -- for whatever it's worth -- the next stretch of time that may test our ability to save ourselves and the world from known and unknown perils.

Went to sleep at some point while pondering just how we'd managed to squander so much greatness? Remembered just before dropping off to sleep -- the press conference being aired on the radio of the shuttle that took us from the Baltimore airport to our hotel. How on earth does one think about the powerful and moving words that graced the walls of the Lincoln Memorial compared with the babble that was coming from that broadcast -- the exchange between White House correspondent Helen Thomas and the boy-president? How had we come to this?

Maybe tomorrow would hold some of the clues and provide some comfort ...

...and it did.

Photos: That is a shot of the interior of our hotel -- only about six minutes away from the Hay Adams Hotel in the heart of the White House area. The other is a moment I'll not forget soon -- as shared with Kokee who was seeing Washington and the nation's treasures for the first time. It was an unexpected privilege through the auspices of the NWHP for which I'll be eternally grateful.

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