Like any good trip to Washington D.C., my first visit to our nation’s capital culminated with an exercise in poetry from the top of Lincoln Memorial.
Finding Your Own Way Up.
As I walk up the marble staircase, conquering the mighty distance a single step at a time, I get the distinct feeling that rather than approaching the famous statue of our nation’s sixteenth president, that I’m actually climbing the steps to meet the Statue of Zeus at Olympia—ready to take in the splendor of the scene and allow myself to be swept up in the moment.
The sea of people surrounding me rushes in every direction, buzzing about like bees—each person with places to see and things to do during their time in this city. And when they communicate with each other, they do it in a way that doesn’t just represent different regions of the United States, but the diversity of the world as well.
The conversations I overhear between English speakers are brought to life by some of the richest accents in the country—Bostonian, Texan, Southern Californian, Midwestern—while those in other languages register only as colorful blends of undecipherable language. Regardless of the meaning any of it may have, in this moment, right here, right now, it’s the spice of life—international flavor for all to enjoy.
It wasn’t until I reached the top of the platform though, where, greeted by Lincoln, surveying his territory from a stony throne, that I understood a single word that wasn’t spoken in English.
The conversation surrounding this one word was simple enough I’m guessing—just a father and son finishing their ascent, speaking in Chinese. I could understand essentially none of their conversation, except for one small word.
Beauty Is Beauty, No Matter the Language.
It took me a second to remember the meaning I’d once assigned to these two syllables (about a year ago, I’d begun a short-lived effort to learn Chinese). I paused for a moment and looking away from the father and son, I tried to remember the meaning of the word I’d just heard.
“Měiguó… I know this one. That’s the Chinese word for… America?”
I couldn’t remember much of the Chinese I’d attempted to learn, but I could remember that “Měiguó” was the word used for “America,” and that translated literally, it meant “beautiful country.”
As I realized this, I looked away from our monolithic sixteenth president, back in the direction of the father and son. I searched for a moment, but couldn’t relocate them in the sea of people.
I looked up from the crowd and into the horizon before me. The Washington Monument jutting abruptly into the sky, reflecting crisply in the Olympic-sized pool of water before it. The clear light of day made for a honest depiction of the source material, save for the ripples brought on by occasional gusts of soft, cooling wind.
Gazing into the Washington Monument’s watery reflection, the surprise I’d felt at recognizing a word spoken in Chinese soon gave way to a reflection of my own.
Lincoln’s Point of View.
Crawling up the stairs of this monument, as well as many other memorials erected to honor the mothers and fathers of our nation, people of endless nationalities, ethnicities, and heritages have trampled, making a pilgrimage to honor those who’ve done so much to shape our nation.
New Americans, old Americans, people who want to be Americans—despite our endless variety of origin, everyone visiting this city seems to fit into those three categories.
And as I stared at Washington’s monument, in awe of the clarity with which its reflection shone in the pool before it, I repeated the word I’d heard the man repeat to his son a minute ago:
“Měiguó… beautiful country.”
I turned back to face President Lincoln—who, while he certainly played no part in Greek theology, is a symbolic figure in America, standing for equality and his seminal value, honesty—and was greeted again by not only his stony, uncompromising face, but also by the multicolored, impossibly diverse group of people swarming the sight.
These people, along with their innumerable linguistic, familial and cultural backgrounds, are the very ingredients that, swirling about in the melting pot of America, make this country the nation it is—a beautiful country made interesting and exciting by the people that live here.
Each one of us have unique backgrounds, cultures and ideas worth celebrating, each of which make America something to write home about—no matter where you’re from or which language you happen to be writing in.