Saturday, March 10, 2012

Spring in the Capitol

Another full week in the political capitol of the United States.  This week had the usual monotony (not that there is anything inherently wrong with monotony sometimes) mixed with an unusually early bloom of spring, which quietly overturned the monotony.  As I walked home from work one evening I was dodging the low tree branches that always threaten to poke my eye out, when I noticed that there were baby buds on the ends of those branches.  Hallelujah!  Spring has officially and completely sprung!  Some of the wonderfully pink cherry blossoms are blooming, flowers of every color are bright and cheery in all the little front yards of the row-houses, and the air is thawing.  Actually, the air never did completely freeze, but it was cold enough for me to now appreciate the warmer temperatures beginning to grace this little corner of the earth.  Every year there is something about spring that ushers in, not only physical life, but spiritual life as well.  I’m not one to believe in an all-surpassing power of depression, against which people are helpless; but I do always appreciate the longer days, extra sunshine, chirping birds, and general flowering of life that are spring, especially after weeks of cold and darkness, and sometimes seemingly endless monotony that are winter.  Sometimes I can be a melancholy sort, especially in the winter, and so at this middle point of my internship I am very thankful to be experiencing the most hopeful of God’s four seasons.  Which brings me to another point.

I came to D.C. hoping that my romantic notions of our country would be subverted, and replaced with a clear vision of what America is today.  For weeks I’ve been hoping that I would come to a new appreciation of America, one that made me no longer want to move to England out of frustration with political grid-lock, gluttonous material culture, and all-consuming ambition that rears its ugly head all over the place here in Washington (it would be an extreme move, I know).  I found my hope realized this week while I was giving a tour of the Capitol building.  Giving tours is actually one of my favorite duties because I get to show people the part of the American political stage that belongs to every single American in a way that the White House and Supreme Court don’t.  Congress, being most directly connected to the people, is my favorite branch of government and why I love the Capitol building, where Congress meets.  The Capitol does not belong to a single officer, or a select very few justices – it belongs to 535 separate members.  The Capitol is magnificently, directly, and closely connected to the people because of its many elected members who represent all the different ideas and cultures, independence and hope, of American people.  Not that any of this is revelatory, but it is why I passionately love our Congress.  And part of why I appreciate the wisdom and courage of our Founding Fathers to try a philosophical political experiment such as our government.  It is also why I have plenty of reason to hope for America, and won’t run off to England or Ireland or Germany (all places of my ancestry). 

The Capitol was built with deliberate symbolism in mind.  At first, I thought it was pretentious and it irritated me to the core.  But now, I’ve softened a little towards the Capitol building, and city.  A film in the visitor center calls the foundations of the Capitol “graceful and granite hard”.  I can now see that as true.  There are no frills here, just an honest experiment in democratic philosophy that has been tested for over 200 years, and emerged successful.  So successful in fact, that the majority of the world depends upon us.  Whether you like that or not, it was no small feat to rise internationally to be the last great hope of many nations, of many people.  In the movie “The Iron Lady” Margaret Thatcher comments that England has her history, but America has her philosophy.  I’ve never been more proud to stand by America.  The freedom we enjoy today (and it is still freedom, though arguably significantly less than even 50 years ago) was hard-earned and I wish I could thank the millions of people before me who worked hard to make my America such a wonderful place to call home.  But that is one reason why I’m here to work, rather than in a more aesthetically pleasing corner of the world with fewer angry drivers and more space for my soul to breathe and meadows to stroll through.  Gratitude –  for the freedom that has been so generously preserved for me and you, and that needs preserving at all costs.   

Cheers to you all this spring day and  may you enjoy the extra hour of evening sunlight that begins tomorrow!         

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Return from Writer's Wasteland

I will shamelessly blame my lack of blogging on my lack of inspiration from my inability to find a solid patch of dirt to walk on or pastoral landscape in which my soul can rest.  I have now completed just about half of my internship.  So I figure it’s about time to begin writing before this blog becomes obsolete with the close of my intern status (not a happy thought).  Coming from a semester at Oxford, making the switch to a congressional intern was what I equivocate to mental, cultural, and intellectual whiplash.  It’s been a good adapting experience, to say the least.  Between my daily tasks of answering phones, running errands for staff, attending hearings, writing memos and giving tours of the Capitol building, I smile.  Because I am watching our government work.  It is not this abstract, philosophical notion with some names and faces attached to it for me anymore.  Our government is run by people, who eat, sleep, breathe, read, walk, smile, live…just like you and I.  Some work here for power, for self-gain, for influence.  But some work here on behalf of the people they love back home, really.  These good and wise people exist here, and so I still have hope, even after a few months of observations from my fresh, newbie eyes.

As far as living in D.C. goes, it took me a while to warm up to it.  I was fondly attached to Oxford and basically anything English when I came.  Between England and Wyoming, I’ve been used to seeing and experiencing scenes of natural and architectural beauty my whole life.  Washington’s best assets are not even remotely related to anything beautiful.  However, I was determined to find something pleasing to my eye here, and I found it in the vivid and piercing shades of magenta and gold in the sunsets.  I tend to be profoundly affected by first impressions of places I visit, so here is a clip of something I wrote when I first arrived:

My romantic notions of America have been thoroughly subverted.  And now I'm in a holding pattern of thought while I try to figure out how to resituate/rebalance my patriotism with my distaste and frustration with politics here.  My subversion actually began with the architecture; walls seem to speak to me and leave deeper impressions than most other things.  I expected the buildings to all look ridiculously new in comparison with Oxford, but I didn't expect them to be as uninviting as I've found them to be.  I mean, I'm in the capitol buildings (for these purposes: the Capitol, Library of Congress, Senate and House buildings which are symbolic of our representative government - of the people, by the people and for the people - and are therefore supposedly my buildings too.  But they speak of an imposing and powerful force.  They boast of a nation that aspires to be greater than Rome, the greatest republic to grace the earth...until America.  It's as if they're not to be used, but rather displayed.  The buildings of Europe are so well-worn and comforting in contrast to the capitol buildings.  There is absolutely nothing else like running my hand along the banister in an ancient cathedral stairwell, or holding the top of the pew in front of me in those churches.  There is something beautiful about how that wood was touched by people in search of communion with God.  There is nothing divinely beautiful about the capitol.  These aren’t fair comparisons, but I can’t help contrasting them tonight.  Buckingham palace even seemed more inviting than the capitol in some ways.  As did Westminster. 

So there you have it, a glimpse of an early impression Washington D.C. left on me.