David McCullough writes a line in his book, The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For that stands out as pure truth. “History is both now and then, today and yesterday.”
Several years ago McCullough appeared on the Charlie Rose show and spoke in his usually eloquent way about why people need to see this country’s national parks and historic sites. He spoke about the need to show young people the wonders of the past. Connecting with the touchstones of the past is exactly the very thing McCullough urged.
It has not been possible, given the pandemic, for any type of vacation which allows for historic sites to be seen up close. With too many places around the nation not understanding the medical and economic reasons to be vaccinated means we stay home and keep the money in the bank. With the logic of herd immunity not understood by too many means the bottom line for all sorts of tourist-related businesses will suffer as many folks around the nation feel as we do about personal safety.
But that does not mean fond recollections are not able to be tapped into and relived.
In 2017, for ten days, James and I made our way to the famed sites in Washington D.C. where monuments and buildings have awed millions. This morning as I poured coffee into my Gettysburg cup–a site we traveled to that year–I thought of the night we walked to the Lincoln Memorial.
To see the Lincoln Memorial in daylight is one thing, as I did on my first trip to D.C. in 1987, but to stand in the lighted wonder at night and ponder the man is quite another. During that trip I found myself talking to many people day after day, and asking them their impressions. I sought out ones who I thought might lend the best insights.
As such I asked a black woman who was age 88 what she was feeling about the Lincoln Memorial as we both stood in the lights that summer night with humidity clinging all about. It was her first time to see it and being from Jamaica she spoke as one who knew of the power Lincoln’s words gave to those outside this nation. “It is very powerful for everyone,” she said with soft words and dark knowing eyes.
On the backside of the memorial looking out across the Potomac I spoke to a father and then told his young teenage children about the battle of First Bull Run and how many townspeople took carriages and boxed lunches to watch the battle as many felt the war would be a short-term operation. Hours later the beaten and badly wounded soldiers would be limping or being carried back over the river into Washington. Some without shoes, others without guns, others without an eye or limb. It was interesting to see the young look out and hear of the events and perhaps in their mind see history play out. (As McCullough hoped would happen.)
I know at some point, not this year I fear, we will turn the corner on COVID, and find the ability to travel again and seek out the sites and memories from the pages of history. We will follow through, again, on the sage advice from McCullough.
Until then, we open the pages of our own personal histories and relive days of travel and discovery.
And so it goes.