Yesterday we took the metro back into DC to the Smithsonian stop, transferring and then getting off at Arlington National Cemetery. On what was probably the most humid and hot day of our experience here, we sweltered in the heat. Even Kyle, whose athletic, 21-year-old body scarcely perspires was drenched in sweat, so you can imagine what it was like for me. The Visitor Center was packed with other sweating, panting bodies so there was little relief, even though it was air conditioned. We walked to the graves of John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. When I was last there in tenth grade it was simply John F. Kennedy's grave to visit. The flame which was lit in 1963 still burns day and night, a reminder of JFK's idealism.
JFK is an enigmatic figure. Since his death forty-five years ago so much more information has come out about his personal life. In so many ways he was his father's son. In spite of his spattered personal record, JFK has always intrigued me. Perhaps it is because his assassination took place just seven months before my birth and so much of my early life (whether I recognized it or not) was formed with that national trauma in the background. Or maybe it is because he was such a young man in such a significant place of power. I suspect, though, that my attraction to JFK has more to do with his spoken words. After viewing his gravesite the visitor turns around to a large marble semi-circle with quotations from Kennedy. I have always been touched by this one:
Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans—born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage—and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this Nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.
Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.
We walked away from the JFK gravesite, stopping briefly at Robert Frances Kennedy's gravesite, another casualty of the tumultuous 1960s. Kyle was struck by the simplicity and the starkness of the grave, although that's not quite the way he put it. (I believe it was something like, "That must really suck to have such a small tombstone"). I, of course, had to remind him that sometimes there is significance in simplicity. He nodded, but I'm not sure if it was in understanding or simply to quell my soliloquy.
Without a breeze stirring we felt the heat index as we trudged up and down hills (the Arlington Cemetery is quite hilly) toward the Tomb of the Unknowns. At 96 degrees with what I would estimate to be 80% humidity we ascended the white marble. In scorching noon-day sunlight, the heat enriched by the marble everywhere, we observed the changing of the guard. It is a longer ceremony than I remember (but perhaps that's the heat talking) but always an impressive one.
Drenched in sweat we began our walk toward the exits. Originally we had planned to view the gravesites of other notables (William Howard Taft, Joe Louis, Pierre L'Enfant and others) but we opted to depart while I could still walk. I told Kyle that if I were to collapse to just let me go. It would be OK for me to die in Arlington National Cemetery. Fortunately we were able to get to the metro stop and enjoy some cooler air (the metro is climate-controlled) until we disembarked again at the Smithsonian stop.
We walked to the Holocaust Memorial Museum and viewed their special exhibition about the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Excellent exhibition with detailed signage and interesting artifacts. The rest of the museum required time-controlled tickets (though free of charge), and we decided not to wait for the two hours it would take for us to tour the remainder. We walked around the side of the building to the Museum Cafe, where we had a lackluster lunch. Kyle had a three-cheese panini and I had an egg salad sandwich on croissant. (It's a vegetarian cafe with kosher options). High-priced lunch and slow line, but it was nice to sit in air conditioned comfort.
Originally we had planned to visit Jefferson Memorial, but the intensity of the heat had overtaken me. We walked a bit more and then decided to cal it a day early. By 3:30 we were back in our hotel room, where I read for a while before falling asleep and Kyle watched (what else?) television until he, too, had a nap.
The afternoon of rest helped my feet and my attitude, so we went out for dinner and then came back to our hotel. There is a reason why July is one of the least visited months in DC. I cannot imagine what it would have been like two hundred years ago without air conditioning or even electricity to move the hot, languid area of this swampy place we call our nation's capital.