One of the remarkable things about the Fourth of July is that it’s a rare time for Americans to put aside their political differences and celebrate our unity, which as history shows, is no easy task. Twisp’s Fourth celebration and Arts Festival do this well. However, a recent visit to Washington, D.C., reaffirmed my sense of pride in our American story by reminding me that being the United States has never been easy.
Every American should get a chance to visit D.C., and I am glad Liberty Bell High School supports this each year. The physical experience of D.C. is like nothing else in the country. Walking among the colossal marble and granite neo-classical buildings that line the National Mall, dwarfed by the scale of the Capitol building, and strolling the galleries of the Smithsonian left me in utter awe, inspired by the grandness and sheer execution of literally building the nation’s capital.
The architecture, the attention to detail, and the foresight to create a national park 2 miles long (which is twice as long as Twisp, end-to-end) to showcase our history, art, technology and culture is unlike anything on earth. The forethought of the designer of the capital, L’Enfant, a French-American military engineer and architect, is remarkable that nearly 200 years later, the mall is capable of handling over 200,000 visitors per day and about 25 million per year.
The other remarkable thing about the mall, is that it’s not just a grand lawn for visitors to stroll, a place of demonstration, and official proclamations by our leaders as we often see on TV. In addition to these formal events, it’s an active urban park for D.C. residents to recreate. After the museum doors close and tourists funnel out to their hotels and dinner spots, locals arrive to play pick-up soccer, set up volleyball courts, and joggers take to the graveled paths while new moms stroll their babies as the sun sets relieving residents of the sweltering heat. It’s the country’s neighborhood park so to speak.
Call it patriotism, if you will, but a visit to D.C. has a way of placing the American story in your heart, weaving you into the fabric of the making of America. It’s a story that is still unfolding, and a little bit of history provides some perspective. While it seems that our nation is currently facing an unprecedented time marked by deep political divides, a walk through history revealed to me that this nothing new. We are a nation who has never been free of conflict, and it is through these conflicts that we celebrate the triumphs and great accomplishments in philosophy, science, humanity and art. The capital, through its museums and monuments tells this connection beautifully.
Take for instance, the fact that there have been four presidential assassinations poignantly depicted in a dark gallery of the American History Museum. This puts our current scandals over presidential overreach and obstruction of justice accusations into perspective. Knifings, stabbings and fist fights were not uncommon in the Senate and House during the initial years of formal rule-making as politicians fought over policy.
The Civil War is even more telling of our historical divides. A stroll through the Smithsonian American Art museum showcases images from Civil War art, depicting the scenes and illuminating the trials and tolls of combat while the Lincoln Memorial’s massive presence reinforces the gravity of its context. It’s easy here in the Northwest to be completely removed this dark history when our country was so polarized. To stay one republic, to be united, resulted in the bloodiest, most devasting loss of American lives ever, still outnumbering all other wars combined.
This Fourth of July, as I wave to the firemen and the backcountry horsemen here in Twisp, it’s with fresh eyes. As my kids race after candy in the streets (which by the way is what the Fourth of July means to them), this recent visit to our nation’s capital brings new meaning and a strengthened understanding of our United States.