Being married to a European has opened my eyes to many things. Sometimes we agree. Sometimes we do not. And sometimes, one or both of us is just confused as to what the other means.
So when it came time to visit Washington, D.C., with my oldest son for his 13th birthday, I will admit there was some hesitation. Some eyebrow raising. Some initial thought that maybe Grant and I should just go alone (without Christopher) to the nation’s capital.
The conversation started when I was telling Christopher how much I love to see the Changing of the Guard at Arlington Cemetery’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. His reaction was opposite to what I had expected, even though I’m not all that surprised. He’s against war in all forms. He thinks bringing attention to such things is a glorification of war. He questions monuments and memorials, especially if they seem to play up the fact that the U.S. “conquered” a nation or a people. He even struggles with the U.S. flag being on display in some instances.
I will not lie. These conversations grip my insides. Sometimes I wonder what in the hell he’s talking about, even though he’s explaining himself and his views. But in the end, I’m flabbergasted. Oftentimes angry. Much of the time, I just want to end the discussion. Much of this is me not hearing what he’s saying, or trying to say.
I’m not a flag waver. I’m not someone who accepts war as the ultimate answer to stop killing. (Killing more people to stop killing makes zero sense, I’m sorry.) I think the U.S. in fact DOES insert itself too often into situations it has no business in.
That being said, I’m not sitting at the table in some war room with the president and top dogs, deciding the direction our country should or should not take in international affairs. I do not pretend to know what motivates such decisions. I’m not privy to information we’d all need to make an educated decision in this or any other similar situation.
However, that doesn’t stop me from feeling defensive for my country. I see no problem whatsoever with the U.S. flag flying anywhere and everywhere. Never even thought about it. (I don’t see it as brainwashing, a term that has been thrown around.) I enjoy looking at and photographing war memorials. I enjoy history. I love architecture. I look forward to showing off new places and things to people who haven’t seen them. I love D.C. and almost everything about it. I feel patriotic. I am proud to be an American.
But the bottom line is I’ve never really THOUGHT about it all that much and what it all means.
So here’s a lesson in history AND the present: We all see things differently. (I know, I know. Mind blown, right? Deal with it.)
And that’s what I’m trying to do. Deal with it. I think we’re both trying to. We’re all trying to.
Christopher says I get angry easily. We’re just having a discussion, somewhat political, and all should be fine. Right? (Another topic for another time … but he DOES get angry, too.) Maybe anger is the wrong word. I call it passionate. I call it a strong opinion. And maybe, just maybe, there’s some patriotism shining through in there.
These are words that can spark quite the conversation in our household. And, as it goes, quite a lesson in history and the present, as I said earlier.
What’s it mean to be patriotic about one’s country? Why are some people so die-hard patriotic? What does Christopher really mean when he says he doesn’t understand patriotism, and has yet to have someone explain it well enough to convince him that yes, you should be patriotic and proud of your country. You should hold your head up high when you say you are American, Austrian, Canadian … whatever you are … be proud. Right? You should go to D.C., dammit, and be proud of your country and where it came from and what it’s become. We were born from immigrants, we should all get along, right?
Again, it’s all perspective. And it’s a learning process.
Christopher and his wife at the time, Eva, were in New York City on September 11, 2001. They saw Americans immediately rallying together and waving flags. I remember that time. I was scared. I had just had a baby, and I was freaking out as to what would happen next. What kind of life my son would have. What kind of world we would live in when he grew up. While I was crying and pacing in my living room in Indianapolis, Christopher and Eva were witnessing bewildered people on the ground in Manhattan. And as the days wore on, the emotions ran the gamut from sadness and shock to fear and “righteous anger.” There was flag waving. There was a rallying of a people determined to fight back.
There was a flood of people suddenly prouder than ever to be American and they weren’t afraid to chant it over and over again.
And the entire situation scared the shit out of many people. Including Christopher and Eva.
While I see absolutely no problem with flags waving over houses and buildings, or war memorials and monuments, or soldiers standing guard at tombs, not everyone feels the same way. I get that. In some countries, especially the region where Christopher comes from, flag waving and flag displays can mean and lead to a whole lot of disturbing outcomes. I need not explain why. Figure it out.
Now, of course, as I said, and will say again: I don’t believe Christopher is against war memorials and monuments in general; instead, he’s against war memorials that are “rah-rah, we won!” type of monuments. Such things exist. I like to think (again, my opinion only) that most of the monuments he’s seen in this country are simply remembering, not celebrating war. That’d be just sickening.
But then again, there’s a high school in Florida named after the first grand wizard of the KKK. The school is only now, in 2014, set to be renamed, and only after much controversy.
So yeah, shitty things happen.
Anyway … yes … it’s all a learning experience. Sometimes it’s hard. We’re all learning to listen to each other a little better. To try and explain why we think the way we do. We’re not necessarily trying to change each other’s views, but instead learn why we have them.
It’s all we can do, really.
In the end, the trip to D.C. was a smashing success. We all learned a ton. Grant got his first dose of real travel (even successfully navigated the subway system) and we all geeked out over the Air & Space Museum.
Of course we visited monuments (Lincoln is always everyone’s favorite) and more Smithsonian museums than we could count. We heard great music by the Marine band on the steps of the Capitol. We ate a lot of good food and walked about 300 miles a day. (OK, maybe that’s an exaggeration. Only 200.) Grant threw up a few times one day, but I’d say overall, we kicked D.C.’s ass.
And I felt patriotic. I absolutely did.
We all had a few moments where we thought, holy shit, we are standing where Abe Lincoln stood. Where Martin Luther King, Jr., gave THE speech.
We enjoyed every moment.
And get this: Christopher even behaved at Arlington. 😉
We arrived in the wee hours (4:30 a.m.) for a train.
We finally caught our train … two hours later.
Kasey loved the train.
We rode the subway. A lot.
Kasey and Grant pose in our very own D.C. apartment.
We saw flags flying at the Washington Monument …
… and more flags ….
… and still more flags, all around.
We read the words of Roosevelt.
We were amazed at the size of the World War II Memorial.
We visited Lincoln, of course.
We ate cold things to cool off.
We saw the sun go down over the National Mall.
We saw where Abraham Lincoln was shot. Right here.
We played spy for a day. And it kicked ass.
We saw an elephant at the Museum of Natural History …
… and the Hope diamond.
We paid respect to JFK.
We climbed the hill to Arlington House.
We were quiet for the Changing of the Guard.
Flags were hung at Arlington National Cemetery.
We enjoyed watching the interaction between soldiers.
John Glenn was in here.
We saw our heroes. Or at least glimpses of …
We pretended to be on the space shuttle.
We wanted to be astronauts.
We were amazed at the beauty and size of the Capitol.
Jackson met Jackson.
We stood where Lincoln sat.
We loved the Supreme Court.
Kasey’s favorite sighting on the trip: Gene Kranz’s vest!
We found George. Or part of him. Look familiar??
Then we found one dinosaur!
Then G fell asleep and soon after barfed.
Then we took this to show the blue sky.
We went in the White House. Yeah, we did.
We made it. Last day. Last visit.
We headed home from here. Goodbye, D.C. Until next time …