It’s only 1 pm over here, and I’m ready to call it a day.
I was not ready for this. I wasn’t prepared to feel so out of my element and so lost and, surprisingly, so homesick. It’s bittersweet. I’m glad I’m back, but part of me actually wishes I were home.
I have the worst nervous stomach in the world, and I could barely eat at all this morning. As a result, my hypoglycemic body nearly shut down on me. Only my great longing to see the National Mall (again, during the day!) kept me from curling up in my bed with my scratchy sheets this morning while watching some of the group go out on a tour of the monuments. Our faculty director had organized it and said it was totally optional, but I was desperate to go. I’m so glad I did, even if I had to leave a bit early so I could go try to find food so I wouldn’t pass out.
The National Mall is three or four blocks from our dorms. After a brief walk, the first stop was the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial. It was more crowded than I had experienced it five years ago, and as our group approached the beautiful, reflective stone with thousands of names engraved upon it, I saw that many people were putting red and yellow flowers down all alongside the polished stone. I figured that it was just a small group paying their respects, but as we started down the pathway, I could see nearly everyone doing it.
I am the slow walker of my group, and was lagging behind as usual when a nice lady wearing a volunteer’s shirt saw me standing still, looking at all the names.
“Would you like to put down a rose for one of the fallen soldiers?” she asked, offering me a beautiful yellow flower from a box in her arms.
I hesitated. “Sure,” I said, and I took it. “Is it all right if I don’t have a particular name in mind?”
“Of course, of course. Put it down anywhere you like, next to the name of any soldier that was or could have been a father.”
Then, with unbearable force, it hit me. No wonder people everywhere were placing flowers down for the soldiers. Today was Father’s Day.
A combination of homesickness and deep, fathomless grief rose within me and before I could even comprehend what had happened I started to sob. I put the rose down within an empty gap in the wall, wiped my tears away, and tried to focus on taking a few pictures and finding my group. I was so overwhelmed. All the names. All the names I saw belonged to someone that died tragically and needlessly. The names I saw belonged to those that might have been or could have been fathers of little children that never saw their daddy come home from war.
I kept crying as we walked to the Lincoln Memorial. I got it together in time to catch up with my group, but teared up yet again when I saw the Reflecting Pool. My favorite place in D.C. is the Mall, and the Reflecting Pool with the Washington Monument in the back is probably the icon of our nation. We went to the Korean Veteran’s Memorial as well. I had seen all of these before, but it was such a surreal, incredible experience to be back.
Then we walked over to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. This was brand new, and I hadn’t seen it before. It was stunning. I wish I had had the energy to walk around and read all the quotes on the stone walls rather than collapse onto a bench and try not to faint. I laughed because my faculty director pointed out that the huge, carved image of Martin Luther King Jr. seemed to be glaring across the river (lake?) at the Jefferson Memorial, who was a huge slave owner back in his day.
We checked out the District of Columbia War Memorial as well, a first for me, too. Before we got there my faculty director jokingly asked me if we were always going to be losing me since I walk so far behind everyone else. My boyfriend always used to tell me I walked slow, and I didn’t believe him. Now I do. But who could blame me? I was soaking in everything.
We went to the World War II Memorial where I visited briefly then left the group to walk back to the dorms and get some food. It’s so embarrassing to be a hypoglycemic. “Yep, sorry guys! Gotta go get food before I pass out on y’all.” Add a nervous stomach to the mix where I can’t eat anything without throwing up? Ugh.
It’s now 2 pm. My legs feel like they’re going to fall off. This has been such an emotional day, both good and bad, and I’m not sure what to expect the rest of this afternoon and tomorrow.
If I take nothing else away from this trip, I think what I’ll remember is seeing the Mall again, getting the honor of putting that beautiful rose down at the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial, and that nervous tummies suck. I miss everyone back home.