Thursday, November 18, 2010
The Embrace of the Unexpected Opportunity
I would generally say that I truly love what I do here. There are times of frustration and aggravation, as would be the case in most any position, but there are far more times of joy and excitement, and perhaps even a deep sense of honor that I am gifted with the opportunity of doing that which I am doing. It is these latter moments that have convinced me that this is such an excellent fit for me, and the place in which I should be serving and working to bring God's kingdom to earth in tangible ways.
Most days I am assigned to work at a specific memorial and recently (due to the departure of many of the rangers due to term expiration in most cases) that has increasingly meant working at the Washington Monument. This can certainly get tiring after a while but even amidst such a routine there are still moments that shine forth. When I reported for duty a week ago after my days off I was given an opportunity to take advantage of just such a moment. The education specialist at the park had arranged a series of special programs/tours for a gifted education school in Virginia. Each day of the week this facility pulls different gifted students out of their normal classrooms and brings them together in a different setting to give them a greater opportunity to learn and expand their cognitive abilities. These 4th and 5th grade students had recently been studying structures and building methods so their teachers arranged this special tour of the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument with our education specialist to learn more about them. So for five days in a row these teachers brought a different group of kids to the mall for that very purpose.
When I showed up for work on Veteran's Day I expected to be sent to one of the special ceremonies at one of the war memorials, but instead I was asked if I would be willing to assist in giving this special tour that day. After replying in the affirmative I learned that I would be solely responsible for taking 15 kids and two teachers down to the Lincoln Memorial, back to and up the Washington Monument, and then on a special walk down tour of the monument. As the last item on that list is something I have never done before in any context with visitors and I have never done anything officially with a group of school kids this was an especially interesting opportunity.
It proved to be infinitely better than I could have imagined. These kids were the model of elementary scholarship. I was amazed both by their level of knowledge and their level of engagement. They constantly kept me busy answering questions for the three hours I spent with them, and consistently impressed me with their quick and correct answers to questions I put to them. Since it was such a good group I tried to make it as special as possible, taking them around the back of the Lincoln Memorial and pointing out things I would not normally have shown them, and especially emphasizing how significant it was that they got to walk down the Washington Monument. As previously mentioned I have never given a tour of the interior of the monument, but thankfully I have paid attention to little bits of information picked up here and there and have a pretty good working knowledge of both the construction methods and the stories behind many of the commemorative stones lining those interior walls, and was able to pull it off.
An unforeseen and unexpected request turned into a wonderful opportunity to help establish a connection to these symbols of America that these kids just might carry with them the rest of their lives.
Another similar opportunity was thrust upon me the very next day. This time I was asked to assist in giving the special VIP tour for the Secretary of the Interior. Normally a single GS-9 Ranger does this tour, but there were more people on this particular one than could fit in a single van, so I soon found myself driving a 15 passenger van around the city giving a tour of not only each of the memorials, but of Arlington National Cemetery, and the city in general. Most of the official interpretation at each stop was done by the GS-9, but I did do all the talking at the Washington Monument and at the Lincoln Memorial, and did a great deal of impromptu interpretation and answering of questions while driving and walking around. I brought in all sorts of random knowledge I have accumulated from other rangers, reading, and my own exploration as a tourist and ended up sounding like I really knew what I was talking about.
The next two days brought further opportunities for special tours, this time on a bike. Saturday was a special tour on sites and events connected with the Civil War and the month of November, a completely random idea that had never really been fleshed out. It was not until the hour before the tour that the ranger leading it and I really discussed what we were going to do, and as it played out, he did the introduction and the final stop and I did the two hours in between, taking a group of 15 visitors around the city and weaving an account of events that changed the course of the war and this nation that had ties to the month of November. For a tour that was largely put together in the hours immediately proceeding it, things turned out quite well!
Sunday provided the final installment of my four days of special tours with a special bike tour on the Gettysburg Address and the events that led to it. This time I was with the same ranger with whom I have planned and done several other bike tours as well as the university lecture on the siege of Petersburg. We only had five people on this tour, one of whom was Alison, but we put on the full show nonetheless. We didn't get to much of the information I had hoped to cover as both of us leading the tour have a propensity to get overexcited and talk far more than we should to stay on schedule, but it was still great fun and another excellent opportunity for me to learn and grow.
With the completion of these four days I officially entered into my final four weeks here at the National Mall. While I have great hope that I will be able to come back in a permanent capacity, unless things suddenly change in the next few weeks I will be addressing the public here on the mall for the last time in this position on Sunday, December 12. Though this thought it a sad one, I also feel that I have made the most of the time that I have had here, giving my all to embrace the position and convey the significance of these stories to all those whom I encounter that they might have a greater sense of their role in this ongoing story.