By Heather O.
When J turned 2, we were living in Little Rock, Arkansas. My husband was clerking for a judge, a gig that lasted one year. We liked Arkansas, but maybe we liked it because we knew we were only going to be there one year. It was one of the few times in my life when I lived in a place where I had no connections, no family, no friends. When we moved in, we didn’t know a single soul. After a week of having nobody to talk to during the day besides my 2 year old, I was desperately lonely and starved for conversation. I got in the car and drove in circles, looking for a park, and practically assaulted the mothers I found there. Like I said, I was desperate.
When DH finished his job with the judge, he got another job with a law firm in Washington D.C. By this time, we had settled into a nice routine in Little Rock. It wasn’t a bad life, and I wondered if I would be sorry to leave. I had a job, we had friends, and we came to love our next door neighbors. When we told them we would be leaving to live in D.C., one of my neighbors, a woman who had never traveled farther east than Memphis, said, “Washington D.C.? Y’all are going to live there? Oh, be careful, dear, that’s a really different place up there. I hope you can handle it!”
Her admonition made me laugh, even more after we drove in from the airport and the city greeted us warmly, like an old friend welcoming us back. I turned to my husband and said, “Should I have told our friend that it was Arkansas that felt like a foreign place, not D.C.?”
I can thank Washington D.C. for many wonderful things. I went to graduate school in Washington D.C.. My husband and I fell in love in D.C.. He proposed to me in front of the Lincoln Memorial at midnight, when The Mall looks the prettiest, and on our first anniversary, we went back and danced at Lincoln’s feet until we were kicked out by a security guard. (Did you know that there is a “no dancing in the chamber” rule at the Lincoln Memorial? Now you do.) And when my husband worked at the law firm, he drove past the Pentagon every day. If you look hard, you can see the wall that is a different color than the rest of the building. There is no memorial at the wall, no names, just a different colored stone.
My dad was in D.C. the day the plane hit the Pentagon, and he has described how it felt to wonder if America was under attack. It was chaos, he said, disorganized and crazy, but then it settled into that odd, scary, boredom of waiting, waiting for the next attack, waiting for information, waiting for something to happen, waiting to know what they were supposed to do next.
We don’t live in Washington D.C. anymore. We still feel like it’s an old friend, though, and when we go to the D.C. temple, we always talk about if we could live there again. If there’s no traffic, we always say we could.
We still take the Washington Post, a habit we couldn’t quite kick when we left. There was an article a few days ago in the Post about how in the furor of the remembrance of 9/11, Washington takes a back seat to New York, sometimes omitted altogether. The Twin Towers have come to symbolize the day, and for good reason—we all watched something happen on live television that most of us had only seen in movies. Nobody had a camera on the Pentagon when the plane smashed into it–to this day, the only image I’ve seen of the plane hitting is from a traffic camera, a gritty image that is over in a second. And there is no ground zero for the Pentagon, just a different colored wall.
I know how New Yorkers feel about New York. And in a lot of ways, the cities of Washington D.C. and New York are alike–they are both crowded, they both boast of being the center of the world, they both have great restaurants, famous people, and lousy traffic. But I also remember reading about when comedian Kathy Griffin came to D.C. to help repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”. She scoffed at the advice to wear a pants suit. Who wears those things anymore, she wondered. Well, she found out when she showed up wearing something flamboyant and awful. She felt sheepish and out of place.
Crazy traffic notwithstanding, Washington D.C. ain’t New York, and it sure ain’t Hollywood. It’s a place where decisions are made that can affect the entire country, sometimes the whole world. And it’s a place that doesn’t take loss lightly, and doesn’t easily forget sacrifice. Memorials all up and down The Mall remind tourist and local alike who went before them, where and why. On the drive from our house to the temple, we get smacked in the face every 20 miles or so with a sign about yet another Civil War battlefield. And yesterday, our stake president, a navy man, called Arlington Cemetery “sacred ground”. He wept as he described the boys he has known who have made the ultimate sacrifice since 9/11, boys whose names are now engraved on a stone in Arlington.
So New York, I’m glad you embraced the day, remembered your loved ones, and did your duty. But please forgive me if yesterday, I gave my salute to some folks just north of us, to the city with the building that has a wall of different colored stone.
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