Winter of Our Discontent

As the arc of my life begins to realign with itself, as my muse inspires me and leads me ever deeper into the now, the past informs the future in present time and the cycles of history become more real, more personal and more meaningful. It has happened with greater and greater frequency and it happened again yesterday in the process of showing a good friend certain sights in DC which are so much more than sights; as in this case they are, and ought to be, experiences. So yesterday, a ridiculously cold, windy day for DC this time of year, I once again visited holy ground and received one more unlikely gift. Just as I had not walked the Mall at night until recently, so I had never visited the FDR memorial in winter til yesterday, when I was forced by nature and trust into focusing fully on the meaning of that spot.

The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial along the Potomac River is a beautiful and inspiring monument any time of year, but for reasons not entirely clear to me, but perhaps related to a once-adversarial relationship with my late father, I had never even considered visiting this lovely spot in wintry weather. My father would have. He laughed at the elements. If I was ever a disappointment to him (an invention of my own as he never said such a thing) I now look back and realize I might well have become a disappointment to myself, if not for the intersecting lines of other lives that somehow function to bring everything into sharp focus. Being at the FDR Memorial on a hellishly cold day with winds whipping the frigid air off the river and across the flat ground between the Potomac and the Tidal Basin lent a new dimension to the spot. I apologize to my friend who was subject to the cutting wind and freezing cold, but this is probably the best way to fully appreciate what is there.

While we are in no way suffering a Great Depression, upon which toxic tide Franklin Roosevelt rode into office, it is still not an easy time. It may well be the most difficult — and dangerous — in many ways, since the Great Depression, and we have grown discontented with less, let alone nothing. The fact that many have nothing — whether it be in terms of finances, property, health, happiness — that there is often needless suffering among many citizens of what is the wealthiest and most powerful nation in the world — is more than ironic; it is a disgrace.

Standing in the bitter cold and knowing I could at any moment escape to the warmth of my car, a restaurant or bar, my own house…knowing these things, the tears caused by the wind stinging my eyes were also tears of gratitude and empathy. There are those who are forced to endure, to varying degrees, this absurdly brutal weather, ill health, lack of basic necessities…and I have far more than I deserve.

I have the luxury of being able, in the middle of a work week, to come into one of the most beautiful cities in the world and wander a memorial of this power and meaningfulness — even if it is because I do not have at this moment — or the past two years — a (badly needed) job. I have some income, I have (so far) a home, I have my health and I discover now I also have my father’s spirit being channeled through me. I can afford to laugh at the elements because I can escape them at will.

A sign for our times

Not every one of us is so fortunate.

Another wave of thanksgiving hit me with those razor winds coming off the water. I was inspired to go to this place when I did, as I have been inspired so often recently, by a powerful human connection. It is shameful to complain as I have, most recently right here in a previous post, because my life is not perfect. It unbecoming, but it also serves to remind me of who I am, who we are, and what truly matters. We can do better, we can be better, we will progress, even as the least sympathetic among us are dragged, kicking and screaming, into a new age of sociopolitical justice and renewed spirit of vital capacity. We’ve done more with less, given the proper leadership:

As has recently become increasingly clear, we still have the ultimate say in our own fate. The steps of the Capitol still belong to us, not some ephemeral “them.” If our leadership, however terrible or just plain absent it may be, will not rise to the level of good, let alone great, then I would point to the following inscription, yet another quote from our longest-serving President, and tap the shoulder of the current White House occupant:

This is holy ground and a sacred trust. Stand aside or, better yet, stand outside that house that belongs to all of us. Get out! The wind is bracing in the wide-open — at least until one realizes the way back in is blocked.



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AJ Calhoun

AJ Calhoun

Writer, activist, novelist, sixth generation DC, local historian-storyteller, and 1:1 patient care technician five days a week.