Because I'm waiting on a few clearances before I can start my internship, I was kind of bummed today while everyone else started their new job. They all looked so great and professional. As Dr. Goodliffe told us, "you gotta look good in DC!" While I really do wish I had started today, I can be grateful for the chance I have to really wear this city out before I'm a 9-to-5er.
Today I spent the afternoon in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. The two and a half hours I spent there weren't enough to get through one of the three floors there. It was incredible. I guess it's no surprise that going to a museum (especially one at the pinnacle of one of my majors--American Studies) is a personal and almost spiritual experience. But I was sort of caught off guard when certain exhibits moved me. The very first exhibit is one featuring the enormous flag hurled at the victory of the War of 1812, when Francis Scott Keyes was inspired to write the Star-Spangled Banner. I've never felt strongly about the flag until today. It was beautiful and felt monumental. I was also especially touched by the Abraham Lincoln exhibit, called "An Extraordinary Life."
It started out with an excerpt from an incredible poem, written by Lincoln in 1846 (entire poem here).
My child-hood home I see again,
And gladden with the view;
And still as mem'ries crowd my brain,
There's sadness in it too--
O memory! thou mid-way world
'Twixt Earth and Paradise;
Where things decayed, and loved ones lost
In dreamy shadows rise--
I range the fields with pensive tread,
I pace the hollow rooms;
And feel (companion of the dead)
I'm living in the tombs
Obviously, this is a good starter to a tearful 30 minutes in memory of the man we love. I really can't put my finger on it--the flag or President Lincoln. I've never been able to figure out why America has been so important to me. I can only reflect on all the times I've felt it is important. With my study of international development and my experiences in India, I have to often wonder, why do I want to study America? What's the use in that? Who am I really helping? But for some reason, this country and its rich history sit inside sacred places of my heart. I'm not sure I understand it fully now. But I know I can trace these feelings to several influential people.
Mrs. Howell, my AP U.S. History teacher, junior year of high school. She was passionate and definitely motivated us to be the same. She taught us to question typical readings of historical events. For example, the first day of class we had to read an American Indian account of Christopher Columbus. It was brilliant. I'd never been exposed to such a critique of the discovery of America. She also made us dress up as significant players of the Progressive Era. I remember her wonderful monologue as Abigail Adams. She prepared us for the AP exam so well.
When I got to college, Dr. Kimball taught my American Heritage class. He also taught with perspectives I'd never heard before. I learned a ton and by the end I knew I wanted to be a TA for American Heritage. I really was never able to pinpoint why though. I just knew it was something I had to have. And now two years later, I'm positive I can't go back to BYU and not TA. I love that class. And I love teaching it.
My first semester TAing was with Dr. Holland. Dr. Holland, not surprisingly, also brought a viewpoint to the table that I hadn't thought of before. I feel I can contribute most of the emotions I felt about Abraham Lincoln today, to him. Remember this post? These facts and Dr. Holland's teachings/writings about Lincoln replayed in my head as I examined his top hat and compared the size of my hand to his. Not only did Dr. Holland motivate me every single lecture to study America and to help solve its problems as well as adhere to the founding and the Constitution, he also advised me so many times on what to do with my life. He made himself so accessible and made time for me whenever I dropped by. When I was having a dilemma about my major (as I do most semesters), he gave me wise advice--that doing what you loved was never selfish. And that I should do what I loved, which happened to be American Studies. I'm so grateful for his guidance in my life, and not surprised that his voice was ringing in my head in the Lincoln exhibit.
And since I've pursued American studies, things have only gotten better. Dr. Sederholm is a brilliant humanities professor who never lets his students forget to ask, what is an American? And with Dr. de Schweinitz this semester, I've gained an incredibly imperative point of view that shouldn't even be considered a "point of view," but should be mainstreamed and curricular--the African American side of American history. Best class I've taken at BYU--hands down.
I don't know why I'm a patriot, but the truth is, I've never felt so patriotic as I did today, standing, weeping, in that museum. And I hope I can narrow in on my patriotism a little more and figure out why American means so much to me. This city definitely holds some of the answers. I know this is where I'm supposed to be. I don't know if I'll ever come back to DC, but for now, this is where I belong.