"When we get home," a heavyset man in a leather biker vest and a black and white skull cap says. He is speaking to his young son, dressed like a waist-high miniature version of his old man. "I'll show you a movie that will put everything you're seeing into perspective. See, when Pop-Pop came home from the war it wasn't like-" His voice trails off as he moves out of earshot and into the throng of people gathered at the west end of the National Mall.
I am standing next to the Three Soldiers Stature, overlooking the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and as I look from this man to other groups of people, both small and large, then onto the line of individuals walking alongside the wall where over 58,000 names are engraved, I am thankful that I'm wearing sunglasses.
Before this past Memorial Day I had never been to Washington D.C. and as someone who (ashamedly) does not have the most in-depth knowledge of United States history, I can only describe the nation's capital with one word: overwhelming.
I live in a small town in New England, one where certain friends think that they should bring a shotgun when they visit because every rustle of leaves is some deranged killer hell-bent on revenge. Despite this, when I say D.C. is overwhelming I don't mean big city living versus the country. I spend enough time in Boston to not be intimidated by large buildings and loud noises. More so, if you took the National Mall which stretches over 1,000 acres out of D.C. and put it in the middle of a forest, it would still be overwhelming.
Established in 1965 under the management of the National Park Service, the central park of D.C. offers landmarks such as The Washington Monument, the Reflecting Pool, and the widest array of museums you could ask for all under the Smithsonian umbrella. According to the National Parks Conservation Association approximately 25 million people visit the National Mall each year. To put that into perspective, that is nearly three times the population of New York City according to 2013 census data. But even the sea of people is not what will overwhelm you when you visit the historic area.
We take the blue line metro (and witness a colorful individual laughing and having a very in-depth conversation with himself) to Arlington. Stepping up onto the street we hear the rumble of motorcycle engines as the Roaring Thunder Rally continues on into the afternoon. I still have not looked at actual tallies, but I overheard someone saying over 400,000 bikes showed up this year.
During my time in Peru I visited Machu Picchu, the iconic Incan citadel in the Andes mountains. Walking through the central area of the ruins you become enveloped by silence. I know, hard to believe when there are so many tourists milling up and down the site alongside the lama-born groundskeepers, but it's true. And at the time it was one of the most chilling experiences I have ever had. That has since been shattered.
We see John F. Kennedy's Eternal Flame and follow the winding road uphill, surrounded by headstones and crosses, rows of which stretch like lines in an attempt to guide. . . Someone. At the Tomb of the Unknowns we watch a pair of middle school students lay a wreath in respect to those whose names remain a mystery. Continuing along the road we stop and watch as a muscular man walks along one of the endless rows of headstones, stops, takes his sunglasses off, and with his head lowered rests three fingers on the top of the stone. None of us talk until we're back across the street, almost at the metro station.
We know these monuments and landmarks from high school, maybe college, history books and more likely movies and television shows. House of Cards, Olympus Has Fallen, and National Treasure are the first ones that come to mind. But seeing these places on the big screen dwarfs not only their size but their significance.
Inside the Lincoln Memorial I read the inscription of his famous Gettysburg Address while people maneuver around me with selfie sticks and children on leashes. I don't take a single picture until I am back outside looking down the steps at the Reflecting Pool and the Washington Monument. Next to me a mother kneels in front of her two children, a boy and a girl, the girl with a small American flag in her pony tail. She's asking them why it says Lincoln saved the Union and how exactly did he do so.
For a minute I listen to her explain to them, passing down knowledge from one generation to the next and I think of everything this country and it's people have endured since its inception. And that word: endure, it sticks as I'm walking back down the steps and into the sun. It sticks because at the bedrock of it all it's what we do. We endure.