Blog Your Blessings: Philadelphia
After eight days of enjoying warm and easy peace alongside the steady, measured indifference of the ocean, I found myself standing beside my daughter and laughing out loud on a street corner in Philadelphia. It's strange to go from being all alone with the elements to the City of Brotherly Love and its crosswalk signs that count down for you the number of seconds you have before the forbidding red hand will tell you to stay back and stay safe. Talk about being led by the hand.
We were surrounded by signs that told us where we were, what was historically significant about being there, what came next, where to turn for the next big thing. We couldn't make a wrong turn. Constant loving supervision. Because it is a crazy world despite our combined best efforts, there were uniformed men with sidearms standing beside our significant historical treasures. And teams of inspectors making sure nobody was carrying anything crazy in her purse. And school-marmy rangers telling us to get rid of our gum because nothing is worse than gum on a historical site.
And because this is America and not everybody gets it, there was indeed gum stuck to the front step of Independence Hall. But I digress.
Inside that building, our guide took us to the Assembly Room, where the representatives of the 13 original colonies settled on the Declaration of Independence as a good thing and as a last resort in a longstanding heated political discourse with a faraway government that just wasn't playing fair. The ranger didn't hesitate to point out that it wasn't a perfect document--it did not count slaves or women among those who are created equal--but it was as good as it could be given the nature of the people in the room debating the thing. After it came the Constitution, another document that was as good as it could be in its time but which has stood the test of time and absorbed whatever changes the people have deemed necessary. Subtext: we do the best we can and keep on going; we do the best we can and keep on going.
Her words were as sweet to my ears as the crash of the surf day in and day out in North Carolina. The sound is music, a balm in a world in which fault-finding, complaining, and bickering pass for insight and wisdom. We live in the Age of the Outed Human. Show yourself to be in any way human, and we'll grind your achievements to dust and flay you. The knives are always sharp. The ranger's words reminded me it doesn't have to be that way. We have a choice.
A choice to live up to the awesome responsibility of democracy, of self-government--as much an individual way of being decent and fair and respectful as a collective one. We always have the option to stop knowing everything and start doing something.
This thrill that left me teary-eyed was brought to me by the Department of the Interior, whose interpreters are very fine teachers.
Hey, not every crosswalk sign in Philly counts down for you. Sometimes you have to exercise good sense and wait your turn. Beautiful thing.