By: Ali Elizabeth Turner
I am just back from a trip to our nation’s capital that can only be described as a singularly memorable explosion of disparate experiences. I went along as a companion for a young woman who adopted us as an adult; she was travelling to Maryland for a job interview. I also had the privilege of functioning as an unofficial courier of sorts, bearing a copy of a recent unanimously passed resolution in the Alabama State House and delivering it to U.S. Congressman Mo Brooks. It was a symbolic gesture, to be sure, but to be able to show that Alabama is intent upon honoring our very own Judge James Horton by calling for the creation of a commemorative postal stamp in our Bicentennial year gave my heart great pleasure.
What can I say about D.C.? That it is maddening and marvelous, heartbreaking and hope-inspiring, and while I am forever grateful to have had the chance to go again after 30 years, I was truly glad to be back in Alabama the Beautiful. We arrived during the annual Cherry Blossom Festival, and the beauty of those trees is difficult to describe. In 1912, Japan gave us 3,000 of them, and their tender pink presence encircling the Capitol area offset the frustration of trying to find a parking place.
We knew that we wanted to get the tough stuff out of the way first, meaning visiting the National Holocaust Museum. We had been together to Yad Vashem in Israel, I had been to Dachau in Germany, and my friend had been to the Holocaust Museum in Houston. This portion of the trip was unexpectedly difficult, because unlike the other museums, there is no place in the National Holocaust Museum to decompress while trying to wrap one’s head and heart around man’s ability to perpetrate evil. Yad Vashem has the Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations, where over 2,000 trees are planted in memory of those who did all they could to protect Jews from Nazis. Dachau has wide open spaces and a chapel, Houston is smaller and not quite so daunting.
All of it was hard, but for me standing in one of the Auschwitz train cars used to transport humans to the killing center was where I lost it. There is still the singular smell, even after 75 years, and one can see on the walls, the claw marks of those desperately trying to escape. How glad I am that General Eisenhower had the prescience to record all that happened in the camps before he made the respective camps’ townspeople face it down and clean it up. To Holocaust deniers, I would say, “See if you can get through the exhibit of the bales of victims’ hair used to stuff mattresses and couches and still say that.”
We spent part of a day going to the Library of Congress, and saw one of three remaining copies of the Guttenberg Bible, which are rotated every three months to be viewed so as to protect them from the light. We stood looking at the bench where our Supreme Court shapes our nation, for better or worse, and marveled at all that was hammered out and executed by men with vision in the form of the Constitution. Conversely, we ached over how far it seems that we have strayed from its tenets and intent. We soaked in the beauty of artificial-appearing live orchids in the National Botanic Museum, and walked by the place where Clara Barton took care of wounded soldiers. It would take months to see it all, and years to take in its import.
Courtesy of Rex Davis, we were treated to a tour of the Capitol itself conducted by none other than Martha Brooks, wife of Mo Brooks. That was mind-numbing in terms of its story as well as its grandeur. It is obvious that Miss Martha loves our nation’s history and the chance to educate others. She took us into the House Chambers where Mo was voting on a bill, and we sat up in the balcony. Below us, by about 50 feet, were famous politicians, including Nancy Pelosi. She took us in the room where the President signs his oath of office, a private chapel, and out on to the Speaker’s balcony, which overhangs the area where inaugurations occur while the Washington Monument looms in the distance. We also got to ride in the underground tram that transports congress members to the chambers so they can vote.
So, what is the point of this Point past functioning at worst as an egocentric verbal selfie, or at best a hopefully interesting travelogue? It is a story of being slapped in the face by the command to pray for our leaders, to repent for our corrupting of the Constitution, and to bear bold witness that there really is, as Ronald Reagan said, “the shining city upon the hill.” The question is, will we turn out the lights?