Monday, April 30, 2012

More than politics, so much more

Lakota model baby carrier with porcupine-quill embroidery, North or South Dakota, ca. 1880. Photo by Walter Larrimore, NMAI. (12/2308)
I had a full day all to myself, deadline free, in our nation's capital yesterday. It was magnificent. And not simply because it was my birthday and I treated myself to crab cakes at Legal Seafood, but because of something much grander.

I've visited DC many many times. It's even the place where I first fell in love. And truth be told, I fell in love again yesterday.

This time, with the city and what it embodies.

No, this is not a homage to democracy or freedoms or patriotism.  Well, maybe it is about patriotism, but defined a bit differently.

What set the butterflies atwitter in my tummy was beauty. I spent 90 minutes surrounded by it. I visited the National Museum of the American Indian, one of the Smithsonian's newer buildings.

It's recommended that you begin your tour of this wildly curvaceous museum on the 4th floor, where you enter a wondrous cave-like setting with twinkling stars and little alcoves where the cosmology of many first nation peoples is told in sounds and images. You move on from there to learn more about the people and the art and traditions and history.

I did not have enough time for a full visit, but what I saw made me realize something I'd never considered before.

So often history is taught or told to us in a way that is so terribly fraught with conflict, epitomizing the very worst of humanity. It divides us into the victors and the defeated, haves and have nots, dead and alive. But as I walked through this museum, I felt a sense of unity, not so much a unity of politics or ideology or laws. I felt pride welling up to be part of the trajectory of America, the one that began with the first nations and encompassed new people from afar and continues to do so.

I realized that through the tears and the bloodshed and the diseases and all the horrors we can imagine or choose to ignore, the truth is that we the people of this country have shared the land. No, we have not shared equally, and we have not always shared kindly. But we each have walked the land, been fed by the land, drawn into our lungs its breath, slaked our thirst with its waters, and buried our loved ones in its soil. We've done so in our own times and in or our own ways. But we've done so.

We are united in this strange and beautiful way. And I am so proud to have shared the land with the rich traditions, blessings, and beliefs of our country's first peoples.

Our capital holds for us -- so that we may immerse ourselves fully and freely in it -- the great treasure of our nation. It provides for us the context for this treasure. It reminds us what is good and beautiful about our time here, and it warns of the wrong turns we have taken and may well take again. I do hope everyone finds a way to imbibe of the treasure and the lessons. They truly are remarkable.

And may the rivers our experiences upon this land flow into a great force of protection and love for those who come after us.


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