Saturday, November 6, 2010

For Such a Time as This

Last Saturday, October 30, 2010 John Stewart and Stephen Colbert staged their Rally to Restore Sanity and/or fear on the National Mall. It was a major media event with people converging upon the mall from all directions. My estimate of the crowd as seen from the top of the Washington Monument was 180,000. The paper put it at 200,000. That's a fair number of people supporting the idea of restoring sanity and finding a middle way.

I fully support such a notion in concept, but I must sadly report that, having observed hundreds of the people who had journeyed to the capitol in order to accomplish such a feat, sanity was most assuredly not restored on Saturday. In fact, I was consistently amazed at the lack of sanity and even basic intelligence exhibited by many of the attendees. It was a far cry from a picture of hope for this nation.

That is not to say that sanity and hope were not evident on the mall on Saturday though. Far from it. I saw evidence of such qualities not amongst the multitudes flocking to Colbert and Stewart, but rather from my vantage point at the WWII Memorial that day. We had three honor flights come in, each bringing men who had traveled across the country to view their memorial, each a veteran of the war, coming to commune together in a shared brotherhood in celebration of the values that their service and sacrifice represented. As has often been the case before I was deeply moved as these men came to the memorial, and their attitudes and sanity stood in stark contrast to the hundreds of other visitors (nearly all of whom were there for the rally) I spoke to that day. It was a keen reminder of what sacrifice, loyalty, liberty, and patriotism look like. I have one particular image that is indelibly etched into my mind as a symbol of this nation and its greatest generation. It is an image of three brothers, all of whom had volunteered and fought separately in the war, two in the navy and one in the army. None of the three had visited the memorial before, and they came together that day, unified in a common purpose, common values, and by common blood. These men at 90, 94, and 96 years old, displayed a sanity and appreciation rarely seen in this country today.

We live in significant times. The election this past Tuesday will bear great significance in years to come, potentially helping to set this nation onto a new course. In such times as we find ourselves in, we would do well to remember moments like the three brothers at the WWII Memorial, moments of love, compassion, and brotherhood. This is a recurring theme that I have encountered in many different forms here in my time on the National Mall. This is a time of both death and rebirth. A few weeks ago I wrote about the season as a symbol death in the midst of life. I am reminded once more of the truth of that imagery and its potency in my own life.

I am potentially facing the end of my tenure as a park ranger on the National Mall, and as I look into the future I know not what will come. But I know that God has called me to this place in this time and I am going to continue to embrace what time I have remaining wholeheartedly. I continue to be blessed by the wonderful opportunities to reach out and touch the lives of others in what I do. In recent days I experienced this at both the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials. Last week I was sent to Lincoln alone, finding myself responsible for everything at the memorial that day. It would have been easy to be bitter and frustrated and let that come through in my talks and interactions with visitors, but I instead decided to use it as an opportunity to touch as many people as possible. Exhausting as it was I saw it bear immediate fruit, as three of my programs ran for nearly an hour as visitors were drawn into a picture of freedom, equality, and unity, a vision that permeates not only the memorial, but the fabric of this nation.

A few days later something very similar happened at Jefferson. I was leaving at 1:00 that day, but was assigned the 12:00 program. I had intended to cut it short to make sure I made it back to the ranger station with enough time to leave at 1:00, but as people gathered to listen I was drawn into the moment and that program too ended up stretching to nearly an hour as I painted a picture of the birthpains of a nation founded upon the God given rights of liberty and freedom. It is a powerful story and the stars aligned that day in such a way that that particular program emerged as one of the best I have ever given.

When I did leave work I picked up Alison and went to Prince William Forest Park to hike and appreciate the wonderful colors of Autumn. It proved to be a poignant depiction of the vibrancy of life filling the world around us, filling me with a great appreciation of the myriad ways in which each of us are blessed in this life each and every day. This same feeling was intensified a few days later when Alison and I traveled along skyline drive in Shenandoah, a land surrounded by the colors of the season. We were a few days late to experience the full impact of Autumn and we arrived just in time to be hit by a rainstorm, but that didn't stop us from finding ways to experience and appreciate the wonder around us all the same. We hiked along the bearfence trail to a splendid overlook stretching nearly 360 degrees around the entirety of the blue ridge mountains and Shenandoah Valley. If I had not already believed that the National Parks were America's best idea, that view would have convinced me!

So deeply is the spirit of the park service ingrained within me in fact that when we carved pumpkins just before halloween (on a dare from Alison) I took it upon myself to carve the image of the NPS arrowhead into my pumpkin. It took a great deal of exacting care and my set of precision exacto knifes, but I succeeded in producing a passable representation.

The weather has turned here as well. Apparently on November 1 it decided it was time to be cold. I have officially switched to the winter uniform once again in preparation of cold to come. And I have continued the charge of splitting and stacking firewood in preparation for winter. Over the last several weeks I have produced a modest stack of firewood along the back wall of the house. Included in the pictures attached to this email is one of Alison having just successfully aided me in that charge as an acting lumberjack for the day.

There is change on the horizon. In six weeks I might well work my last day on the National Mall. But then again I might find myself in the position of a permanent ranger, firmly established as a representative of our nation's history indefinitely. It's hard to know how to proceed when one does not know the future. But perhaps it is in such times that we are best able to appreciate joy and wonder, best able to see the world as God sees it, to realize the roll we play in the larger story of the redemption of creation. Perhaps it is when we see the world in such as fashion that we are most sane. Perhaps much that has happened in our past has led us here to this juncture in this moment. Perhaps the many blessings God has lavished upon us have prepared us to deal with the formation of hope and restoration of sanity around us. Perhaps we were brought to this place, exactly where we are, in the roles we are in, for a time such as this.

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