I have always been an avid traveler, but I haven’t really gone anywhere since the pandemic began. Instead, I have been hanging out at home and reading my many travel journals. I usually tended to travel alone, so I got in the habit of bringing along a journal to keep myself company. This here is an excerpt of a journal entry I wrote 23 years ago:
Washington D.C Amtrak Union Station, July 22, 1998
I am waiting for my train to leave for Boston. I am a little early — about two hours early, in fact, but I desperately needed to get out of the heat. It was so humid outside, and every time I came across a drinking fountain, it didn’t seem to work. Oh, but it was worth it to endure the smoldering wet air because D.C. made me do a lot of thinking — about who I am, who my country is, what our history as a people is all about. America truly does have an incredible story to tell. Our past has a lot of fire, a lot of hope, a lot of bravery, a lot of spirits, and a lot of ghosts. The air was heavy with the breath of those who breathed life into our nation. Being there made me want to know who they were. It made me want to remember them and to feel them as I’ve never felt them before.
I saw the Declaration Of Independence today, and I really felt it. Seeing it made me want to cry because the artifact looked so heavy, so proud. The signatures, however, were terribly faded, and I could barely make out the oversized “J” of John Hancock. His was the biggest signature of them all, and it made me wonder if he signed it first. Most of the other signatures weren’t as distinguishable anymore, and the document was hard to see under a thick green glass display case. But, oh! The power of it! And the paper it was written on was huge! How bold were those men to write out their thoughts and then fight for their ideas? An entire war! Over a piece of paper and a few signatures! No, I know it was more than that, but believe me, when you find yourself standing in front of that powerful document, you come to think that the American Revolution was fought for nothing more than that which is staring right at you. It is the most dramatic, most heartfelt link to the past that Americans have. It will be with us forever, faded or not — we will always have it. There’s only one. But the guard rushed me past it. “Move along,” he said. Hardly gave me time to appreciate it. I had to go through the line twice to get a longer look at it. I think a lot of other people did, too. The power of it escapes only the most shallow of human beings. People come to D.C because they want to feel like true Americans. It’s a strong and proud place.
I’ve never been here before. I am 25 years old, so I have come to think that it’s appropriate that I am here at this age. I am still young enough to feel passion, yet I am old enough to know better. And I am alone, or rather, “independent.” I’ve been thinking a lot about independence and freedom lately. A big part of my past has ended. I am left to be independent, and I wasn’t too sure how I felt about that right away. Coming here has made me understand a little bit more of what independence really is. It is a strength, not a weakness. It makes for new beginnings as it sheds old ends. This country takes into her bosom those who find themselves alone. This country makes people strong, she takes them far, and she makes certain that one ever looks back. “Look forward to your future,” America says, “for there are many grand things to be discovered. Search for inspiration in the old brave heroes, for they may have feared, but they were not afraid.”
I have a new life in my 25th year. A new stage in the theater of life has been ushered in. Act 1 has ended, and Act 2 has only begun. I have learned from my mistakes, and I have no intention of playing the same part twice. My longtime boyfriend, however, has gone back to the beginning. I am in no way going to follow. I have moved into a grander opera house — one with better lighting, better scenery, and better writing. The dialogue is new, and the author is none other than me. I am learning from the wise and trying to resemble the ethos they portrayed. I have new role models to look fondly upon. Men like Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, Abraham Lincoln, and the whole host of others who made this country new. Americans, yes, for the first time, I am looking upon my own nation. I used to only search in Europe for inspiration, never quite knowing what kind of minds lurked in America’s past. Yes, a new spirit has taken me, and for that, I feel good.