What Are We Waiting for?
Years ago, I lived in Washington, DC. More years have passed between the day my one-way rental Town and Country minivan pulled away from the 1400 block of A Street, Southeast than the five years I lived in that city. My father and I packed my whole adult life up until then into the back of the van. An IKEA mattress, a blue bicycle, and too many clothes. Neighbors swarmed like gulls at the furniture I left on the sidewalk. I wish I had taken this one perfect yellow kitchen table with me.
I have lived on Nantucket so long now that when I find myself in a place with more people than there are dinghies, I am unmoored. Strange to think I used to wander the city’s grid, surrounded by throngs of people that made Commercial Street in Provincetown on an August night seem tame. Okay, nothing could make that crowd seem tame, but you see what I’m getting at.
In Washington, I worked at the US Capitol, writing and giving tours to people who visited from around the country and across the world. There is no off-season for tourism in DC, in a normal year. But spring, when the cherry blossoms bloom and the sidewalks are covered in pale pink petals, a sort of vernal blizzard, is when the city shines.
Perhaps you have been on an 8th grade class trip to Washington, as a student, at teacher, or chaperone. There are hundreds of children, overtired and over-caffeinated, in matching tee-shirts proudly announcing the name of their middle school. And when you see a sight like this, you understand why they call it a school of fish, how these children weave through the halls of our federal buildings and museums, moving as one entity.
And it didn’t matter how tired these kids were, or how tired I might have been, as each time we walked up the staircase into the Rotunda, I could almost always count on a half second of quiet as they took in the room around them.
Here I am again, wandering those halls in my mind, every day of the last two weeks. When I am walking the low dunes in Surfside or through our town’s cobblestone street. It is funny, in that sad and strange way, I realize, that when I was in DC I used to look for traces of Massachusetts. The whale oil lamps that lit the Old Supreme Court chamber where John Quincy Adams argued the Amistad case. The marble from Massachusetts quarries on the exterior of the House and Senate extensions. “Wellfleet Oysters!” scrawled on a restaurant’s chalkboard special. Or the way the sunlight fell on swimmers at the East Potomac Pool.
I spent five years wandering those halls, studying the building, the art, trying to better understand the history of this country and the people we elect to represent us. There are many lifetimes of history we have to work through. What are we waiting for?