Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Places of Holiness

If you guys can forgive me for a moment I'm going to be serious. Yes I know it's rare but I'm feeling old and introspective. When I was 13 years old and my little sister 8, our parents sent us away to Florida for what seemed like two months though I'm sure it was more like two weeks (which is a long time for my grandparents to put up with us. Perhaps they were more patient than I remember). This was right before my older brother moved back in after living in Colorado for a couple years. Which means they had several weeks childless...hmmm another piece of the puzzle falls into place.

In any case after wWe drove up from Florida to New York to meet my parents. I believe somewhere outside of D.C. While there we did the normal hajj-like visit to the Mall separating the Washington Monument from the Lincoln Memorial. This was before the WWII memorial was put in mind you.

As I might have mentioned, this is a place of innate holiness to most Americans. The museums, monuments, and memorials of the D.C. area connect us with our common heritage and experience. That most of this heritage was tempered in the furnace of war might explain much of our foreign policy and the fratricidal rage that's destroying our political system. But I digress.

When compared to the beauty and grandeur of the new World War II memorial, which by its very architecture insuates that it was the last Just war, the Vietnam memorial is a simple, moving, and stunning critique of an unjust conflict. Carved in black rock are the names of all the men who died in a conflict, which based on the starkness of the memorial, seemingly had no utility but as a killing field. Of course being the brilliant mind you all know and love, I internalized all of this as a 13 year old.

Okay maybe not. In fact I remember that I stood there bored out of my mind with the lines at this memorial and the lack of interesting reading (I was already a museum nerd). That said I noticed something odd. My parents reaching out and touching names on the wall. My mother crying and my dad more stoic than usual. I didn't understand it all then, but I did understand that this was holy land. This was the type of place that could move men's souls to the very core.

There are places like this for people of every stripe. One of the difficulties that divides humanity is finding solace in places that don't have an intrinsic tie to your own culture or beliefs. I suppose that's why Jerusalem will never be at peace because it's intrinsically holy to too many people. That said I think all the monuments constructed to help man reach the ineffable have their place and are part of our common heritage. It's just for us to realize it.

1 comment:

Coops said...

What I don't fully understand is why we build memorials - Places of Worship yes, objects to worship, not so sure, and that seems to be what these memorials are. I have been to my fair share of war memorials, but I have also visited empty fields and beaches, killing grounds, torture rooms, POW camps etc, where only a plaque has been added to inform what the location was. I find those places both much more eerie, and I at least feel much more connection with the events that must have taken place there. Stand in a muddy trench in the middle of a field in a thunderstorm, I don't really want to be there more than a few minutes before I head for a hot shower let alone months or years with little food or training. Will we build more memorials for our place in Iraq to replace those statues of Saddam that were torn down - I am sure that the Iraqis would not want them. Don't get me wrong - the soldiers need remembering, but in most conflicts and certainly those of the past and present, far more innocent civilians die in the 'crossfire'. I don't remember many memorials built to their memory, but many built to the memory of the soldiers. We have a running total of how many British/American/Canadian etc soldiers killed in Iraq, but I have not heard a running total of the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis killed. Political rant over!