COLUMN: Far from perfect, but very thankful

In mid-October, my oldest son Patrick and I ventured to Washington, D.C., to explore as much of the museums and monuments on The National Mall we could in a three-day, two-night whirlwind tour.

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The duo take a break outside The White House.

BY MARK WALLACE MAGUIRE

And despite unpredictable weather, long lines and the general travel idiosyncrasies, we were successful.

We walked 20 miles in those three days. We rode subways, taxis and buses. We dined on street food and in sit-down cafes. And we experienced the glory of America’s history up close and visceral.

I had been to D.C. a couple of times prior as a child, but this was Patrick’s first visit. We picked D.C. for one of our twice-yearly guys’ trips because he is a serious patriot and social studies scholar. I don’t say that lightly, either.

Our last guys’ trip was to King’s Mountain Battlefield in North Carolina and the kid knows more about the Revolutionary War than I do.

He also routinely cracks jokes about the British losing that war (Do the British lower their flags to half-mast on July the Fourth?) and he even impressed a Smithsonian docent during our trip with his knowledge about the intricacies of the signing of “The Declaration of Independence.”

So, this was his trip as much as it was anyone’s.

But, I got a refresher as well. I rejoiced in many of our nation’s accomplishments and was thankful for The Smithsonian Museum and the National Park Service discovering ways to preserve our history to share with us today.

The trip inspired me and I realized how fortunate I am to have been born in this country and to witness the work that has gone into preserving our collective past so that we may remember. I found it poignant, especially as we live during such a tumultuous and divisive political times in our nation’s history. Here are just three thoughts that surfaced during our journey:

1. Thank God for the museums and the National Mall: The Air and Space Museum is the highlight of the massive Smithsonian’s 19 museums for most males I know, especially boys.

 

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An  artist takes a break to examine her work in the National Gallery of Art.

It not only houses pivotal airships like The Wright Brothers plane, The Spirit of St. Louis and thousands of artifacts from America’s first moon mission on Apollo 11, but also contains all the big, small and overlooked pieces of history from our nation’s aviation heritage. We made it to four other museums as well and took in such significant items as “The Declaration of Independence,” “The Star Spangled Banner” and “The Constitution.”

 

My favorite museum was The National Gallery of Art. The collection in itself was mind-blowing, but it was also the fact that art students of all ages were painting in the galleries.

It is truly a peoples’ museum.

Of course, it is all accessible thanks to the National Mall. That glorious open area featured not only families and friends milling around, but games of flag football, concerts, a few protests and charity events. In a word: Awesome.

2. Monumental People and their Legacies: It is a dangerous path to go down reading biographies about one’s heroes, someone once told me. I have always believed that. When you read the ‘real’ person as opposed to the sanitized version that has been painted for you, you discover they are as foible and their life riddled with inconsistencies and bad choices as the rest of us.

And that remains true for our nation’s heroes enshrined in Washington. They were not perfect men or women and all had their share of sins and shortcomings. But, all in all, they made major changes in the world and helped herald in new ages in democracy.

Whether standing in the shadow of the Washington Monument, under the visage of Abraham Lincoln or walking along the side of the reflecting pool recalling Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech, one is reminded of what history and cultural shifts these Americans made.

3. International Affection: During our visit, I was asked by a Chinese couple to take a photo of them at the Washington Monument. An Australian woman volunteered to take a photo of Patrick and me inside the National Gallery of Art.

I did my best to help a Spanish dad and son with subway tickets and I held an interesting conversation with a New Zealander about America while scarfing down gyros in the shadow of the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.

Throughout our trip, there were incidents like these. The majority of tourists were just so happy to be in Washington, D.C. and so thrilled to be experiencing part of our history. The feeling was contagious.

There are dozens of other stories I could reel off about our adventure and more observations I could make on America.

But, now, at Thanksgiving, no less, it is a good time to take a look back and remember we do have a lot to be thankful for in this country.

Our democracy is not perfect, nor ever will be. But it is the best we’ve created so far. And, for that, I am thankful.

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