Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Remembering the Scent of Change

There is change in the air, the smell of new vistas of opportunity mixed with the scent of deep seated memories of the past. The blend of the two is one of the many unique features of working in the position that I do here on the mall in DC. I am constantly surrounded by both, mixing and swirling together in a symphony that assails the senses and fills the soul if one allows oneself to be open to the transfusion. 

It is now halfway through the month of July. A year ago I was leading Wild Cave Tours of Wind Cave and portraying a member of the 1902 survey expedition that recommended that the cave be preserved as a National Park. Now I am portraying Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain as he stood upon Little Round Top defending the left flank of the Union army, and as he led his men forward, only to fall wounded before the Confederate works at Petersburg. My how life can change! And yet amidst the change there are constant reminders of the past. 

I still don't know anything firm about what is going to happen with the permanent jobs that are ever being spoken of. They are releasing a merit promotion (that only permanent employees can apply for—i.e. not me) next week and at some point following that there will be  a second announcement, which is what I will be able to apply for. I am still waiting to see what that will actually be. The current word is that it is going to be released to all sources as an open announcement for a 5-7-9, which would be very bad for me, because that announcement will draw a whole whole lot of attention, which means I will be competing against a lot of people who can beat me out for the job. But no matter what happens I am going to do everything I can to try and get one of those permanent positions!

Even amidst the continued uncertainly in that department, I have decided to take a significant step and move one month from tomorrow. I will be moving out into Virginia, into a house with three other Christian guys, dedicated to creating a place of fellowship, brotherhood, and community. It is exactly the sort of environment that I have been wanting and have not had here. No more drunken parties, no more disasters in the kitchen, no more roommates who won't clean the bathroom, and most importantly, being able to do life with people who look at the world the same way I do. I am very excited about the move! I will be living two blocks away from a bike trail that connects all the way to the mall in DC on a series of bike paths, which means that I will still have the option of riding my bike to work, though it will be a 12.5 mile ride one way! 

I know this because I rode the paths Sunday evening to see how hard it would be and how long it would take. It took an hour and was very tiring, but I did make it from the ranger station, to the house, and back. And just as I was feeling particularly tired and worn down I spied a 7-11 about 200 yards off the pathway and since it was July 11, I decided it was the perfect time to go and enjoy a free slurpee! If I end up riding that trail to work I am looking at a 25 mile bike ride simply in commuting. I would definitely be in shape! 

I continue to have unique experiences and special moments working on the mall as well. On July 3 I was given the keys to a golfcart and instructed to drive around the capitol lawn and collect leftover bottles of water from where it had been cached earlier that evening. So I did. It was great fun! I got to drive all over the lawn of the capitol, going through barricades and driving in areas that people are normally never able to go near. 

I also spent time at the WWII Memorial this last week and was once again blessed to hear a snapshot of the stories of some of the veterans who came to the memorial that day. Two stand out in connection with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. One man was on a destroyer that morning and watched the attack from his ship, seeing ships sink around him, and living in constant fear for his life. He made it through the attack unscathed and went on to ultimately be stationed on an aircraft carrier that was positioned off the coast of Japan, sending bombers into Japan night after night, preparing for the final assault that never came due to the dropping of the atomic bombs. He was present on a ship prior to Dec. 7th 1941 and after Aug. 12 1945, spanning the entirety of our direct involvement in WWII. 

Another man I spoke to served as ship's cook aboard the USS Enterprise (the aircraft carrier rather than the spaceship). This particular carrier was supposed to be back at Pearl Harbor early in the morning on Sunday, Dec. 7, but they were delayed at sea and were 12 hours late that day, a fact that saved the ship from certain targeting during the attack. When they arrived amidst the desolation they quickly refueled and took on food and other supplies and then left again, not knowing if the Japanese would return and renew the attack. He remained on the Enterprise for the next two years, and was present at Midway, Guadalcanal, and numerous other engagements. 

Every time I think I understand the war and its impact I meet someone like these two men, one of whom lived the reality of war against Japan from start to finish, and one who was saved from destruction at Pearl Harbor by a few hours delay, and suddenly I feel like I know nothing at all. And I am keenly reminded of why I am doing what I am doing, and of the importance of telling such stories so that they are not forgotten. 

I have been blessed by being connected with rangers who are letting me take a leading role in larger tours as well. Last Sunday I did a bike tour with another ranger about the first two months of Lincoln's presidency, which meant I got to talk about Ft. Sumter and the resignation of Robert E. Lee. On Saturday I was scheduled to do another tour with a different ranger, and he let me choose the topic and develop the route and the whole tour. As we considered possibilities we decided to do it on the birth of the nation through the eyes of the men who were a part of that process (it seemed appropriate in early July!). I put in a tremendous amount of time and work to prepare 26 pages of notes for the tour and was ready to go, only to wake to find it raining Saturday morning, which apparently deterred any potential participants. Though the rain had cleared by the start of the tour and it turned out to be an absolutely beautiful day that would have been perfect for a tour, nobody showed up at all. So the tour didn't go. :( 

I was, however, able to get a spot with the same ranger to do the same tour on August 15 (the same day I will be moving!) so I will still get to do it! And, since we didn't have a tour, the other ranger asked if I wanted to still ride around and enjoy the day, and for the next few hours I gleaned a tremendous amount from his extensive knowledge and experience. I basically got my own private tour, covering areas I knew little to nothing about. So amidst disappointment, I more than found redemption! Now the journey continues as I am preparing to lead a running tour this Sunday!

So even as I look forward into the future, I am constantly remembering what has happened in the past, filled with wonder at the intermingling of the scents as the two coalesce and form a new and ever changing array of beauty. 

Living in dangerous wonder!

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