Throughout the pandemic, especially when school was virtual only, our son took a lot of extra online classes offered by one of those extracurricular education services. We mainly signed him up because he needed things to do and my wife and I needed time to work.
He treated a lot of it like a chore, which is pretty typical of a kid his age. However, we were wonderfully surprised with how interested he became in a class about the monuments in Washington D.C., the history behind them and the people they honor.
So, last week, in our first real vacation as a family since February 2019, we took him to our nation's capital.
I used to go to D.C. a lot, both as a kid and an adult. Neither my wife nor I had been there in about 15 years or so, but there's something about that city that never gets old for us. Seeing all the monuments and grand buildings and museums, I got the same feeling of awe and excitement that bowls me over every time. In some places, I try not to look like a tourist. In D.C., I've got no problem with it at all.
It was especially cool for my wife and I to get the sort of vicarious thrill of seeing all of these things for the first time through our son's eyes. To witness his enthusiasm at finding the exact spot in front of the Lincoln Memorial where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his "I have a dream" speech to hearing things like "Well, we have to go to Mount Vernon!" was really something.
The city wasn't chugging along the way it normally is. Washington is just now, it seems, starting to throttle up after COVID-19. Still, it was crowded, and it took me a while to get my reflexes back in dodging people who aren't watching where they're going or what they're doing. Fortunately, most of them still identify themselves by wearing Red Sox caps or shirts with Ron DeSantis on them that say "Make America Florida."
That big, black fence around the U.S. Capitol building, reminding us of that awful riot on Jan. 6, was still there when we arrived. It came down on our last day in the city, and it was heartwarming to see families gathering on the lawn that evening.
We were staying at an Airbnb just a few blocks away from Capitol Hill. Our host said she had to evacuate during the Jan. 6 insurrection, and described how terrifying the incident was for her and other locals. I noted there were a few West Virginians facing federal charges from that incident.
"We thought we'd represent the state by going to a Nationals game, seeing the museums, pumping some dollars into the local economy and not breaking anything," I told her. We kept our word.
I don't see how anyone could look at that magnificent building and think to storm it, defile its sacred halls and try to harm elected officials. I guess for all of my cynicism I'm still naive when it comes to certain things.
Believe it or not, that was one of the only mentions of anything relating to recent politics during our entire trip. The city almost felt relieved in a way to be getting past public health crises and political strife. People were so polite I briefly wondered if we'd accidentally traveled to Canada. I guess it helped that Congress wasn't in session last week.
Really, D.C., especially for tourists, isn't about what's happening now. It's about all the things that happened before to forge one of the greatest countries in the world, and the first sustained, successful democracy since Caesar ended Ancient Rome's run as a republic. The history is all there, and it's less whitewashed than you might think. That kind of hit me when viewing the slave memorial at Mount Vernon, and when doing the math on all of our past presidents who were either assassinated or targeted for assassination, right up to Reagan getting shot coming out of the Washington Hilton in 1981.
We're still a young nation. We don't deal all that well with transitional periods, and we sometimes expect instant change. Oddly enough it was a tour guide who put it into perspective for me.
"People say the government doesn't do anything or nothing gets accomplished; that's not true," he said. "It just takes a while."
I know it's not quite that simple. But being among all of that history, in a city that shows where we've been, where we're going and everything we've survived, makes me want to believe him.