May 14, 2013

DC, my home.

A few weeks ago, quite a few people passed around this article. The author's basic thesis is simple (and explicit): "Life is too hard and too short to spend in the office trying to get ahead, while outside in the bright sunshine, the parade passes by."

However, some people who posted this on their facebook added additional commentary, simplifying the author's point  to something quite different, saying that it was instead a call away from cities and toward small towns.

A few days after reading the Business Report piece, I found "Capital Offense" on Front Porch Republic. The author, Jeffrey Polet makes a general point about capital cities,  using Washington, D.C. as his main example. He seems to make the same argument that facebook pulled from the Business Report piece: cities are bad, not-cities are good. Unfortunately, it's clear Mr. Polet never paid attention to "the bright sunshine [and] parade [passing him] by" right here in this city.

When describing DC, Mr. Polet says "Washington is a place inhabited by rich families in the SuperZips, by 20-something singles who want bars, restaurants, nightlife and shopping and who embody the nihilistic chic of contemporary culture, and by the avaricious and ambitious. It is a place no one is from but people flock to because it is a 'cool urban place.'”

While this may be true of some, to paint the entire city with such a broad brush necessarily stretches the truth. It is insulting to ignore the many families who are from DC and who have lived here for generations.  Mr. Polet continues the insult, lumping everyone together as "avaricious" and, used pejoratively, "ambitious."

Now to be perfectly honest, I am not "from" DC, in that I wasn't born there, and have yet to have a Washington, DC address. I am from Northern Virginia, the sprawling yet crowded suburbia that has to exist to support such a city. If anything, it's a social set up hated even more by the Back to the Small Towns crowd. The author also lived in one of these suburbs, so we're coming from the same place.

The description of Washington isn't the most frustrating part of Mr. Polet's article. He saves that for his very last thought.  He barely bothers to support this assertions, assuming that everyone will agree with him. "The capitol, the memorials, the museums – none of them connect to the heart like dipping in the salt-free waters of Lake Michigan, a lake trout snapping on a J-plug, the tulips blooming in early May, or a run down a sandy dune."

Perhaps the capitol, memorials, and museums didn't connect to Mr. Polet's heart because he didn't try? The other things he mentions are beautiful moments, but that doesn't mean DC is (somehow) both sterile and rotten. Did Mr. Polet really feel nothing when he walked the aisles of the Supreme Court law library, thinking of John Quincy Adams arguing the Amistad case in the Capitol basement? Has Mr. Polet never looked into Abraham Lincoln's statued eyes on a summer night, as the rain pours down outside, while silently mouthing the second inaugural carved into the wall, imagining the war torn nation hearing those words?

Did he ever go with his mom and spend hours at the Edward Hopper exhibit in the Smithsonian, tracing the lines of New England cottages with his eyes, learning to love beauty and each other? Or maybe he never got a chance to stand alongside the tidal basin at sunrise, eating bagels with his family while the cherry blossoms sing with life.

DC isn't perfect by any means, and it certainly deserves its share of critique.  Even Ryan Lochte makes fun of us. But to say the only thing one can experience here is "nihilistic chic" is lazy. If your heart is not moved by the history, beauty, and people here you are the one missing out, not the city. As Eliot says, what we call the beginning is often the end. Similarly, for every place that is someone's leaving, it is someone else's coming home.

There can be arguments made that certain places better create community than others, but you are silly to say there can only be community in particular places. The Business Report article got that--it wasn't about leaving the small town for the city, it was the author shutting his heart off from companionship. He watched his sister who had built a vibrant life, and saw that she had more than he could ever imagine.

Your door can be open to the stranger at the gates anywhere. You can say goodbye to the office and reach for the bright sunshine and the parade anywhere. You can find things to connect with your heart anywhere. Mr. Polet may not have found a home in Washington, DC, but I have, and it is very good.

1 comment:

Nathanael Yellis said...

Small towns have more meth.

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