Behind the veil there are many instances of human connection that truly embodied our emotional connection to the Washington, DC trip as a whole. Each instance proves to be a moment reaching endlessly: a moment that has shaped us as human beings.
There is something remarkably natural about the most unnatural of human creations—the modern city. Skyscrapers the redwoods of my native coast, roads deer paths drawn in asphalt, the subway the rabbit’s warren. It is as if left to our own devices, we revert to the wilderness our bones still call home. As not only a planned city, but also one specifically built to be a nation’s capitol, Washington D.C. poses an interesting case. The founding fathers placed the District of Columbia carefully independent of the states and in the geographic center between north and south. The design, as it has evolved reflects the constitution and its system of checks and balances.
The Washington Monument glowed rosy gold against the twilit sky. A quietness seemed to settle as our group approached, not an auditory one, rather the quietness of mood that comes when hundreds of strangers are focused on one thing, one tower reaching up to the stars. To the north was the White House, a working monument to the executive branch of the government. Facing back the way we came, the Capitol Building was visible just above the trees of the National Mall as the legislative branch symbol. Around the corner of the obelisk was the Jefferson Memorial, the judicial branch. And around the last side, the Lincoln Memorial shone double in the reflecting pool. I had always been uncomfortable around patriotism because I thought of it as a blind pride in the country as it is. On this trip, my idea of patriotism shifted to be more along the lines of hope for what the country could be and the drive to help it get there. Standing in the circle of billowing flags and craning my neck to see where the tip of the obelisk pierced the night, I felt a wave of this new patriotism.
Washington D.C. was built as a model of what we hope to be as a country, but it is the people that give it life. The people show who we are. People like Congressman Joe Kennedy who get to work at eight in the morning and leave at ten pm, trying to make the country function better. People like Melanne Verveer who see the world as it ought to be and have hope we can get there. People like the banjo player who motivated our way up the Dupont Circle steps, who make their way through a difficult life with tenacity and hope. Just as I see the monuments and streets of D.C. as representative of the structure of the nation as a whole, I see the people as representative of all the potential for positive change resting within the 324 million individuals that are the life of the United States.
As the plane slowly landed at San Francisco International Airport, I could already feel part of me wanting to go back to Washington DC. I missed the creaky bunk beds from the Pilgrimage, the numerous trips to CVS, making music in the hallway with one of my best friends. I missed all of it. But as I reacquainted myself with my normal life back in California, I felt some resistance. My mind was so flustered when I returned because I had become accustomed to the lifestyle that Washington DC showed me. Having Isaac tie my tie every single day, laughing and talking with people, having my friends around me 24/7 for 2 weeks, and also the discipline of working within a bigger group. It was hard to adjust back into my normal life, but I think that proved how much of an impact this trip had on me.
At first, the idea this trip proposed, interviewing politicians and congressmen and so on, honestly did not entice me. And I wasn’t the greatest at writing questions either. So, the beginning and preparation of the trip implanted this idea in my head that I would not enjoy my time in DC. Oh boy, I was wrong. This trip turned into one of those memories that I will cherish for many days to come, and it wasn’t even the fact that I got insight and advice from the people we interviewed. It was because of the connections I made and because of the friendships that I made even stronger. All the nights filled with laughter and connection with the people that I love and never want to forget. From the recreation of the song originally made back in 5th grade by Saniya to staying up late and listening to Max tell scary stories. Each moment of the trip was made special because of the love shared by everyone.
As we continued to interview people by the gallon, I learned something very special that I had never thought about beforehand. When our group was reflecting on some of the interviews, the idea that the person we were interviewing was a person just like one of us really resonating around the room. They weren’t a “Congressman” or an “Admiral.” Obviously they were if they went by that title, but to us, they seemed as human as ever. They seemed relatable and easy to get to know. There were even some times when the interview almost turned into a conversation, person to person, rather than person to politician.
This trip showed me so many things, that if I were to list them all out here, we would never finish, so I’ll keep it simple and sweet. I learned to cherish the now, and take what’s given, rather than complain about what you didn’t get. I also learned that if you follow your interest and your passion in life, the path of life will be shown to you, all you have to do is follow the path made for you. That is something that many of the congressmen emphasized, and something that I was truly moved because of.
Prior to the DC trip, I was warned numerous times of the intense and overwhelming workload that the trip would demand. So this aspect of the trip was definitely not a shock for me. However, what I was not expecting was to enjoy the interviews as much as I did. Especially for the political interviews, I expected to be confronted with policy hungry politicians that put me to sleep. However, in each and every interview, we saw the person and the humanity rather than the politician. This really struck me and changed my perspective on our government. This was especially prevalent in our interviews with the republicans; Congressman Dan Donovan and Congressman Tom Cole. In our research, these congressman were made out to be abortion hating, gun loving politicians, but from the interviews, we realized that they were actually just nice, kind people that had different views from us. As I enter the next stage of my life and apply to colleges and get ready for my future, I will remember this realization that just because someone thinks differently than I, doesn’t mean they are wrong or a bad person.
Returning from DC I was faced with a harsh transition from well-dressed DC to a reggae festival. While it was rather strange to jump from walking to one side in an organized group to walking in the midst of a bunch of confused hippies with little sense of direction, the festival actually opened my eyes to what I had learned on the DC trip. At the festival, I heard several songs about politics and government. Many of these songs were blaming the government for one thing or another, portraying public service workers as corrupt war inducing officials. I realized that I had been raised on this image and had never really seen politicians as real people. But in DC, we met real politicians, talked to them, and learned from them. And when we watched them interact with each other on the capitol steps I was struck with the realization that politicians (at least the ones we met) are just people, trying to do their best for other people. While I may not agree with some of them, I’ve learned to respect what they’re trying to do and the differences we have, and learn from them. I also realized how many of the people around me have never spoken with a congressman or anyone and don’t even realize they’re still in a box made of a single narrative view on politicians.
DC was an eye opening experience for me that showed me a whole new perspective on the way I had been raised. I realized I don’t agree with the feeling of anti-government/anti-authority atmosphere at many reggae festivals. I hope those around me will learn to break out of their single narrative box and take a fonder view of public service workers, because I know I learned a lot from the ones we talked to. I always thought politicians were stubborn but I didn’t realize that I was the stubborn one. And I know that there are other politicians out there that might fit into my box, but most the ones we met completely did not fit into the box at all.
Overall, I really enjoyed the DC trip, despite getting sick on the last day. It was an inspiring experience for me that I know I will take lessons from into the rest of my life. Honestly, I didn’t think I would enjoy it as much as I did. But I find myself missing the trip and can’t wait for India next year.
The rails run like veins through the body of the city, pumping people towards Metro Center and outward again in arrivals and departures, heartbeats, escalators, and arteries; everything is in motion. Homeless men and disabled vets linger around the outskirts of the metro. They occupy the shadows cast by diverted eyes. I walk past them, down the escalator, and onto the subway car.
A man sits across from me, carrying all his belongings with him. I stumble through the Star Wars theme song on my harmonica. I play the melody almost inaudibly. As the subway comes to a stop, the man stands up and walks towards me. “I recognize that tune,” he says. He unfurls his hand and places a quarter on my bag. “I’m a musician,” he says, “so I have to give you something, do you know any other songs?”
“Thanks, but I only know the Star Wars song,” I say, “You’re the real musician, keep the money.” The man insists that I take it. The sincerity of his smile moves me. I acquiesce and he departs before I can get his name.
I think of the homeless people I’ve seen throughout the trip. Their circumstances are so sharply contrasted by the government buildings, the suits, and the airplanes that circle overhead. As I pass the quarter back and forth between my hands, its weight seems to increase. It is strange how those who have the least are the most generous. I stuff the quarter deep into my pocket. Not everything is lost in the spin of the city.
This trip is serious. You might have been able to derive that conclusion based on literally every other post made on this blog. This level of depth can only be achieved by the jackhammer under the title of “The Chaperones.” The whole leading crew of this trip has pushed us off of a plane to flail whilst they declared the gospel to us (almost literally). The gospel they sang was that we must work and do it with the intense effort indicative of a writer struggling to complete a simile. “When you fall all the way, you can’t stop the storm,” and the storm came. This isn’t my attempt to complain to an audience, though, in fact it is quite the opposite. What I am trying to show is that it is human nature to make the best of every situation. Our first moment was our adventure to CVS one fateful day. On this specific day sirens filled the air as we approached our destination. We had intention as we approached the building that night, and we continued walking towards the flashing red lights of the fire trucks parked in front of the pharmacy of the covenant. Each of us had something we desired and seeing that the building was not on fire and still in business we entered the building like addicts looking for a fix (I use that simile specifically because I REALLY wanted soda and that was my goal that night). In hard times sometimes it’s the small things that put your situation in perspective. Having that soda made me realize that happiness is relative to your situation, and if you think things are hard and feel unhappy, you just need to find a way to make the best of your situation; only then will you be able to get past your own discomfort and embrace what is right in front of you, which leads to:
One day we visited Thomas Sweet. This store was a covenant in a similar sense to CVS. As we walked past it, I prayed that we would be able to stop by later that day; this is mainly due to the banana ice cream on the menu. I have been on the lifelong pursuit to find the best Banana ice cream in the world and was eager to try what they had to offer. I am happy that we got to feast there because I can confidently say it is one of the best I have ever tasted.
I am also glad we got to have dinner at Z-Burger one night. Z-Burger is a burger and shake store located directly across the street from the pilgrimage we are staying at. Every day we passed it and it plagued our mind with the temptations of meat, which we were deprived of most of the adventure in DC since our school has vegetarian values. One day our dreams were achieved and we got to enter the building (following the naming trend of the other locations) of the covenant. This was once more an experience that showed me the relativity of situational happiness.
Once the speakers were soft-spoken
And our minds were thoroughly broken
Not a word was to be spoken
As we hopped in bed at night
But things didn’t turn out right
Our good sleep came with a fight
As we let our minds the right
To enjoy words meant fully to be jokin’.
These were friends I took for granted.
Each has mental seeds they’ve planted
That grew the tree that forms you and me.
This tree will never sever
Through my collegiate endeavor
Which will take these binding nights from me.
This is the last time to connect
Too much gravity to deflect
The memories to be treasured almost endlessly.
The doors of Buca di Beppo were pushed open and we embraced the night. It was the kind of warm summer night where you walk outside and take a moment to say, Wow.” We were overjoyed—overjoyed to have accomplished so much, to have met so many mentors, friends and teachers. What a blessing to be surrounded by the joy we felt tonight. I could hear laughs from the front of the line to the back as we walked to our home where we would sleep one more night. Our chaperones were smiling—proud of us—and we smiled back. Excited to go home and to remember, we walked home in the thick blanket of air. It’s as if the sun shined at the end of our trip to say goodbye, to send its blessings, and we were overjoyed. I was overjoyed to be among such beautiful students, friends and family.
I will miss my new best friends, the juniors, when I graduate. I wish I would have taken the time earlier in the year to hear Bella laugh, to hug Amelia, to listen to Savannah. The MMS DC Learning Journey has given me confidence, love, and advice. I am so excited to go home and pay it all forward. I love every single person on this trip, and if someone asked me right now, “How are you?” I would say: I am overjoyed.