Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Even Darkness Must Pass, a New Day Will Come, and When it Does the Sun Will Shine Out the Clearer

I finally have a day off once again! I spent the last four days, including yesterday which would have normally been my day off, working nearly 12 hours each day due to the cherry blossom festival. It has been ridiculously tiring and exhausting! It has been fun as well though. The blossoms were absolutely beautiful and I greatly enjoyed being able to see them each day as they continued to change. Now they are all nearly gone. It happens so quickly! A powerful image of the fleeting and ephemeral nature of life and of the way that we should bloom to the fullest in our own lives as we use well the time that has been given to us. 

The festival is not over, but we are on the downhill slope. This weekend was mass insanity. On Saturday alone there had to be close to 700,000 people in the park. That is a LOT of people! I spent a lot of time helping to protect the trees, reminding visitors why it was important not to climb up in the trees and pick the blossoms. That task never ends! The one that really got me was the family that came walking along, each holding several tulip bulbs that they had plucked from the tulip garden along the tidal basin. And when I kindly informed them that they could not pick the flowers and take them out of the park they proceeded to mouth off to me about how much they hated me for ruining their fun. It really does continually surprise me how self centered and clueless so many people really are. They come to a place of beauty and wonder and have to taint it by destroying the very source of that beauty so that they might enjoy a small fragment of the true beauty and hold onto it for a brief and fleeting instant rather than marveling in the majesty of the whole. I think there's a sermon in there somewhere!

On Saturday I was given the task of giving special talks on the cherry trees at the FDR memorial. As I mentioned in an earlier email the talk I designed was not the typical cherry talk. I included many of my own personal touches, and it was fun to actually get to do it. On that day I gave a talk five times to crowds as large as 45-50 people at once. There were so many people around that we had to stay in one place. I had the same assignment yesterday and it was a different world. This time my groups ranged from 1-10 and we were able to walk along the basin under the last remnants of the blossoms in their final display of glory. My talk centered upon the blossoms as a symbol of the samurai way of life, a life of honor and service dedicated to living life to the full, having reconciled oneself to the reality of death, and come to see the true value of life as a result. I included references to the Last Samurai and two from Lord of the Rings, ending with my favorite line and concept articulated in that story, "all we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us." It was nice to be able to talk about something completely unique and different. 

On Easter Sunday I biked to work early and joined 5000 other people at the sunrise service at the Lincoln Memorial. It was a lovely service, made much more significant by the magnificent sunrise unfolding before us. I have included a few of the pictures of that Easter Sunrise. There are many more pictures of both the sunrise and the cherry blossoms on my facebook account. 

On Monday I spent the entire day (11 hours) at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, alone for much of that time. That meant that I had to give talks every hour, try and staff the information kiosk, and help people find names on the wall by myself. Fairly overwhelming when a good 10,000 people came through during that time! Even so I was blessed with some incredibly poignant moments. On three different occasions I began to cry as I talked to people about the significance of the wall and what it has meant to people. I teared up every time I told the stories of some of the things that have been lift at the wall, things like medals of honor that a veteran brought to give to a comrade who deserved it more than he did, like wedding rings, laid at the wall beneath the name of a husband who never came home. Things like a harley davidson motorcycle that was custom built one piece at a time by a group of vets who had formed a motorcycle club after the war and then brought to the wall and left there so that if any of their brothers wanted to join them on a ride they would have a way to do so. Things like a ziploc bag containing the ultrasound image of an unborn child, a picture of a young family with two children and a letter that began, "dear Dad, you are about to be a grandfather again..." as a young woman told her father the story of a family he never knew when he didn't come home. 

And the conversations with those that have come to the wall... I helped one man find the name of his first sergeant, the man who trained him, looked out for him, and got him through the hard times, who had been out in a jeep when it hit a landmine in 1968. I helped another man find the name of a helicopter pilot who had flown with his Dad. One night, just before a mission his Dad wasn't feeling well and was pulled from the flight. The helicopter and his friend never came back. Now the son was at the wall to take a rubbing of the name back to his father who was unable to make the journey himself. And then there was a the lady who worked at a VFW in California who had come on behalf of the vets there. I helped her find nine different names, each with a special connection to one of the men in California who couldn't come themselves.  Or the man who listened to my talk and then came up to me in tears, thanking me for what I had said, for remembering, and for caring about his generation, many of whom are still living lives forever broken by what that wall represents. He comes to the wall every year when he is in DC on business and forces himself to make the journey once more, into the pain and heartache and then emerging on the other side. He told me his wife doesn't understand why he keeps coming back, but that he can't help it, that he is drawn to the wall and cannot leave without making that journey. And then there was the couple who I talked to for 55 minutes, attempting to explain to people who had lost friends and classmates and still did not understand why, how it was that 58,000 Americans never came home from the jungles of Vietnam. It taxed every bit of my historical knowledge, every bit of tact I possess, and all my ability to teach and explain. When that conversation concluded I was crying, she was crying, he was crying, and the six other people who had joined us were crying also. She hugged me and told me that I had brought the memorial alive for her and brought new meaning and understanding to something she has carried with her for forty years.

It is truly humbling to work at that wall.

On Saturday I am portraying Paddles the Beaver one last time, this time in the cherry blossom parade which means that the festival will have begun and ended with me as Paddles.

Another piece of good news is that my supervisor told us this week that there is a cert that will be released within the next few months for a minimum of ten permanent ranger positions on the mall and that he wants to hire as many of us as possible for those positions. There are definitely quite a few more of us than the ten positions, and there will be applicants from the outside as well, but it sounds like I really might have a chance at competing for one of those positions!

Resting in the glory of a day away from the tourists!

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