Visiting Washington, DC

Last night I had dinner with an Imam and two members of his mosque. It was a warm and delightful as well as educational time. This morning it was back to back radio interviews. The second one lasted past the cut-off point, so I think it went well.  The host is clearly a practicing Christian, strong in her faith. And she is also interested in and embracing of Interfaith. Respecting each other’s faiths, without trying to come up with whose belief is “right.” We can do this. Maybe, at long last, the world is ready for it.

Then, after a quick lunch, I went on a rather lengthy walk, from my hotel to the Capitol Building, and then down Constitution Avenue to visit memorials.  I felt particularly called to visit Martin and Abe, but I also wanted to visit the war memorials.  I wanted to say “Thank you.”

What struck me as I walked was how many memorials we have, and yet how little memory seems to go with them.  The memorials for the First and Second World Wars, and the Korean War, seem all items of curiosity – and photo opportunities.  I could find no sense of reflection.  The Viet Nam memorial, of all the memorials, appears to be the one given the most respect – and by that I mean a few people walked slowly, some clearly looking for a specific name.  But still, most people seem there because it’s one of the “places to see in DC” – a photo-op.

The Lincoln memorial is, in a sense, also a war memorial.  Lincoln is sometimes called the last casualty of the Civil War.  But of course, he was so much more than that.  Everyone there was smiling, chatting, and snapping pictures.  I stood at the top of the steps, gazing at Abe as he sat there, with one of his hands clenched and the other open, and with his slightly too large head for his body.  And I couldn’t help but wonder what he was thinking as he gazed out, endlessly.  His face seemed wise, and kind, and rather weary – though that’s undoubtedly projection on my part.  “That these honored dead shall not have died in vain.”  Lincoln, at Gettysburg, talked about our responsibilities as the living, as guardians of a “new birth of freedom.”  And I cannot help but believe that our responsibilities go beyond building epic memorials.

I’ll admit it, I cried at the King memorial.  I cried in part because I still remember vividly when he was murdered.  I felt a keen sense of loss then, and I still do.  I removed my hat and prayed, both at Abe’s memorial and Martin’s.  I won’t judge.  I can’t and won’t try to guess what people were thinking as they posed before Martin’s memorial, huge smiles on their faces.  But, as my eyes filled with tears, I pondered Martin’s sacrifice.

We are good at building memorials.  We are GREAT at building beautiful, huge memorials.  But I am moved to wonder if we pause long enough to think why the memorials were necessary.  I wonder how often we take the time to remember the immensity of what Abraham and Martin sacrificed.  And I wonder, as we seem to enter war after war, if we truly remember what the brave men and women, living and dead, that we sent to those wars have sacrificed.  And, for those who come home, what they continue to sacrifice long after the war is over and the politicians who sent them to war have comfortably retired.

I do not by any means mean to slight the thousands who have given their last full measure of devotion to this country.  I deeply honor their sacrifice.  I went to their memorials to say thank you.   But I particularly wanted to talk to Abraham and Martin.  I wanted to tell them how much I have learned from them, continue to be inspired by them and, most of all, remember them.

If you should ever find yourself in DC, I have a favor to ask.  Visit Martin and Abraham.  Talk to them.  Listen to them.  They still have much to tell us all.

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