Over the years, I have walked a certain path when I'm on the Catholic University of America campus. It's a tree-intensive and beautiful campus, usually quiet and serene.
A few weeks ago, a friend and I were scheduled for a guided tour of the Basilica which is on the campus and I knew how to get there but as we walked up the hill from the metro stop, I could see "my" path was pulled apart by construction. It threw me off! There was no choice but to walk a different way.
This seeming annoyance turned into a gift.
As we navigated our way, we happened upon the "Angels Unawares" statue depicted above. (For multiple, and better, views of the statue, please use Google.) In short, coming upon this statue unexpectedly took my breath away.
The determination of the immigrants, people of limited means who had few belongings in tow, were headed to a new life together. They were young and old and male and female – and they were clearly united in their meaningful journey.
This experience was a good reminder to me, who has lived here quite a few years now, to intentionally veer from my normal walking patterns because who knows what exists just a block or two off-course? I just might find myself again staring at another wonderful statue or site that impacts my day so palpably.
Snapshots of Life in the City
Over the years, I have walked a certain path when I'm on the Catholic University of America campus. It's a tree-intensive and beautiful campus, usually quiet and serene.
An out-of-towner contacted me to say she was going to be in Dupont Circle for a few days and asked about meeting for lunch. I love that area – it has a nice historic vibe and there are so many, probably too many, great restaurants to chose from. Good problem.
We settled on Iron Gate on a beautiful, tree-lined, quiet street. It boasts being one of the longest continuously operating restaurants in DC, founded in 1875. All I know is that it sets a mood that is conducive to conversation while reminding patrons of a simpler time.
We easily settled into a conversation and as we left, we paused to look a bit more closely at the dining room, formerly a barn where horses were kept, and the carriage house, now housing the bar. The old window frames, lighting, and walls were carefully preserved throughout.
"We have a group looking at our place today for their wedding," the bartender said.
"What a great idea – what a great place to have a wedding!" I responded.
"We get a lot of business from weddings," he said with pride.
Once outside, I suggested we stop in across the street at the longest continuously operating hotel in DC, the Tabard Inn. I knew it would be worth a few minutes as I had been there countless times over the years and was always glad to have an excuse to return.
So we walked in and the floors creaked underneath our feet. The foyer had one wall where hotel guests could speak to someone through a small wooden window, clearly original and preserved, clearly setting a wonderful entree to checking into a room in this hotel. But when we walked next into the parlor, a parlor straight out of the 1920's with an old fireplace, wood paneling, and black and white photos on the wall, my companion paused.
"Oh," was all she said.
We stood silently a few moments just taking it all in.
And we weren't alone. People were comfortably seated in the parlor having drinks, talking in hushed tones as if they too knew this was a special room. There was just a feeling of being a part of something special, a sense of calmness, and a sense of the many people who had been there before us.
DC has so much to offer. Its history is alive and well and that doesn't just refer to the Capitol, White House, Smithsonian, and other noteworthy government buildings which are often the main (or sole) attraction for tourists. It just takes time to absorb all of the meaningful and inspirational elements of the city. It just means returning often so that you can poke around the neighborhoods.
I had just gotten off a subway train at Foggy Bottom and was adding money to my metro fare card, vaguely noticing a woman standing nearby. When I finished the transaction and started to turn to leave the station, this woman approached me.
"Are you in a rush?"
"What do you need?" I asked.
"Could you help me add money to my card? I see that you just did it."
I gestured to the booth where metro employees hang out. "There are people in there who know everything about these machines so you might ask them." She hesitated and she didn't look toward the booth, she looked down at the ground.
"But if you prefer that I try to help you, I have a minute."
I was being too nice, I thought, but it was too late now. So we found an available machine and I walked her through the process. She was young, red-haired and pale, and spoke English perfectly but with a strong accent. Thankfully, she was also a quick study.
"I see now that I could do this if only I just followed the prompts!"
I laughed and shrugged.
"But it was nice to have someone helping me so thank you. I am from South Africa, going to a college visit day at George Washington U," she said. And she talked at a fast clip about how she was meeting up with a group in about 15 minutes, wondered if there was coffee nearby and if she had time to explore a little. I answered the coffee question and otherwise listened politely.
We walked to the escalator together and when we got on, I stood on the right, and she stood (wrongly) on the left. I didn't correct her for her choice (where people expect access to rush past those on the right). I figured if she did attend this school, soon enough her behavior would be shaped out of that choice! I just hope it wouldn't be done with too much rancor.
We quickly reached the top of the escalator and were at street level. A lot of traffic, people, and noise greeted us. She stood and looked around as I slowly headed toward the street crossing to be on my way at last.
"If you choose GW, I hope to run into you again some day," I said. She smiled broadly. And with that, we parted company.
My initial reaction to her request for help had been to refer this lady to the station agent but I'm glad she persisted and that she wanted my help. Who knows why she engaged me – maybe just because I was conveniently there at the machines or maybe she thought I might have time for a short talk before her visitation day. She clearly was taking a big step that day and maybe she was a little apprehensive.
In the end, I was happy about that short-lived connection, whether or not I was in a rush.
Matinee performances at the Kennedy Center usually draw a crowd of student groups as well as those in senior care, all showing up in busses, buzzing excitedly to their cohort before and after the performances.
I arrived early to a matinee recently and decided to sit on a bench near one of the entrances to the building. I was looking up pondering the art installation shown in the picture above – basically, men's old shirts hanging from the ceiling – and wondered what could the artist have meant to convey - when an older man with a cane sat down gingerly next to me.
"What is that?" he asked. He was looking up also.
"I think old shirts in flight! I haven't read the plate over there yet."
"I'm 92 years old and just got out of the hospital after several weeks but I didn't want to miss the concert over that. And it's nice to see this artwork as well."
I stopped looking at the installation and turned to him. "You are 92? Well, congratulations on that – and by the way, I would have stayed home after a hospital stay!"
He nodded and smiled. "See that woman over there in the white dress – the one talking to the woman in pants? That's Mary, my neighbor – we go to events like this frequently. We aren't in a relationship – but we are great friends with similar interests." He nodded again, still smiling.
And for the next ten minutes or so we talked pleasantly. Mary eventually came over to see if he was ready to go to their seats and he obliged, standing carefully using his cane. They both said good bye and walked slowly, heading to the check-in area. Instead of veering onto the accessible ramp, they took the stairs, holding onto the railing.
Inspiration has a way of appearing seemingly out of nowhere.
As I sat on a bench in DC waiting for a subway train, I saw a message appear on the display indicating this subway line was delayed in both directions due to an unauthorized person on the track.
I felt a wave of sadness. This is never good.
Did someone attempt suicide? Was some pushed onto the track or did they fall? How sad it was to contemplate what happened – what would cause a person to land on the frankly disgusting track of the subway system?
Then a pleasant female voice filled the air saying, in part:
"We apologize for the delay. There is an unauthorized person on the track. We appreciate your patience."
The voice was pretty clearly a recording. I guess this happens enough that a button can be pushed and a recording can be sent throughout the affected stations.
I later learned that this incident happened at Southern Avenue Station in Maryland. It is an above ground station so I hope that the person was able to get to safety. The underground stations are far more constricting in terms of a person's chances of navigating back up to the safe platform from the track.
It is still concerning.
Since a person caused a delay, clearly they must have been on the track for a while, however they got there. Who was that person? And if my fears are merited, what was the reason for being on the track? I can't think of a good one.
A few times this winter, the ice rink at the sculpture garden on the national mall was closed because it was just too warm outside. I bet it must happen near the end of the season each year, but I have never witnessed it. Yet, this year I saw the rink closed a few times, and sadly, in the heart of the winter months.
This particular day, birds were flying around and singing loudly and the sun was bright. The rink area was entirely blocked off – no one was allowed to even sit around the periphery – which is a favorite area for the humans to perch.
I took a picture (above) that shows some workers with shovels, hacking at the ice that was melting. Why didn't they just let the rink alone until the temps drop again? Why were they breaking up what little ice there was?
I don't know.
As I sat alone on a wooden bench nearby, people wandered into the park and some commented to each other about the rink closure. Most seemed to be tourists.
"Oh look – an ice rink…oh no, it's closed. What a shame."
"No reason to stay and have lunch here – the good seating is blocked off."
"I hope it gets cold again so we can skate before we leave."
I was just one of very few people that day who chose to sit outside the rink area. And I wondered where this change in weather was headed.
Maybe now we just have a few days in winter where it's this warm but what happens in a decade, two decades, or more? Surely the number of hot, sunny days will just increase.
Will we use more energy to keep the ice rink cold enough? Do we abandon the idea entirely of converting the pond into a rink in the winter and just leave the pond of water as is, year round?
Whether or not they stopped to notice (and comment) on the fact that the ice rink was closed, most people walked through the park quickly, only briefly pausing to admire the blossoming of dogwood trees and other signs of plant life emerging so very early in the year. Some took pictures.
This was just a snapshot of the new normal.
I had a battery replaced in a watch and it worked well for about an hour after I left the store but then it stopped. It had been a long day and I didn't feel like walking all the way back to the jeweler to deal with this. Instead, I waited until the following week.
When I explained the situation, the guy quickly grabbed the watch and he spirited away to a separate little room, and then re-emerged in a few minutes.
"It doesn't appear to be the battery but I will try another one." With a few well-honed movements he replace that battery and we both looked. Nothing.
"Do you want me to send out the watch to get fixed? There must be something else wrong with it."
"No, it's not that valuable." I wasn't sure if I should take the broken watch back or just ask him to toss it so I stood a moment.
"I can ring through a credit but you asked for a battery and I put one in." He stood unsmiling, unmoving, staring at me.
I was at a crossroads – clearly he was waiting for my response, probably waiting for a fight. And I am no shrinking violet.
However, just an hour before this showdown, I had listened to a meditation expert say something like: "Be kind to others. Remember we are all in this messy life together, so be kind, give others a break, someone else may be having a bad day."
I decided to heed that lesson. "OK, you're right. You did the job I asked you to do." And I began to leave the store, stuffing the broken watch in my pocket.
"Wait!" he called out and I turned. He looked surprised, if not shaken. "Do you have another watch I could put a new battery in?"
"Not with me – just the one I am wearing now."
"How old is that watch's battery?"
"You know I have say several years at least."
"Let me replace that battery. Then you get a battery that you paid for."
So I removed the watch from my wrist and handed it over. In few movements, he popped out the old battery and replaced with the new, and handed the watch back.
"Thanks!" I said with a smile. He looked relieved.
Maybe it was just luck that it worked out that way but it was surely nice that I didn't start an argument or have any bad exchange with him. I walked home smiling and got on with my day.
Waiting for a train on the platform at Metro Center, I was approached by two young women who asked me where to catch the train to Foggy Bottom. I gestured and nodded. But instead of moving to that area, they stood looking at me.
"Do you live in DC?"
"We like this city so far. We are here on a mission from Utah."
"Are you Mormons, if I might ask?" I peered at them.
"Yes but we call it The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints."
"Oh – sorry. Right." There was a pause.
Then I realized something. "You are talking to the wrong person – I am not interested in conversion."
"That's fine. We are just curious if you like living here."
"Very much." There was another pause. "In DC you can be what you want – all kinds of people are here with all kinds of views on life."
They nodded, staring at me. Then they asked how long I'd lived in the city and what I did for a living – all very polite.
"All I know about your religion I learned from that musical The Book of Mormon that was on Broadway. Is it basically accurate?" I asked.
I knew I was likely pushing a limit.
"I have heard of it but I never saw it," one of them said and the other whispered agreement.
"I recommend it. I never knew the Rochester story nor how the missionaries worked." They looked at each other as I continued on. "And oh, and have you seen Jesus Christ Superstar?"
"No but someone in the church recommended it to me," one of the young women said quickly.
"Really?" The other one said, looking at her colleague.
"It was controversial in its day but it comes pretty close to the Christian story I'd say," I said. "Very clever - and it's still being produced on stage, going on 50 years now."
As I looked down the track to see if a train was coming, they sort of backed away to stand elsewhere on the platform but not before one of them gave me a card of a local temple. I smiled and waved to them as I left. They were whispering and did not wave back.
Usually I don't engage with people who approach me about religion but I guess I thought why not, I'd just say what I thought and see what would happen.
I would love to know what they were whispering about.
I entered the elevator at the Foggy Bottom metro stop (on the platform level) and three women rushed in behind me. We were in tight quarters and it felt like I was a part of their group because of this close proximity.
"Have you been smoking?" one woman asked another.
The other woman's response was to burst out crying.
I looked down, keeping my eyes on the floor.
"God forgive me - yes," the crying woman gasped. "I am on my way to my first day of chemo and I still can't quit cigarettes!"
I lifted my eyes surreptitiously to look at all of the women, but kept my head down. Her friend was frowning and shaking her head in disapproval.
The third woman simply said, "God bless you."
As we exited the elevator, I kept pace with the three women through the station in order to stand behind them on the escalator to the street. It was difficult to hear much of what they were saying but the smoker was crying and clearly she wasn't getting much support from the first friend. I felt so drawn into this drama and I knew it was weird of me to want to hear more yet there I was evesdropping a bit longer.
But at the top of the escalator, as the three women walked towards the hospital entrance together, I went on my way in a different direction.
The whole scene couldn't have lasted more than a few moments and yet I witnessed a very vulnerable and stressful moment in that crying stranger's life. I could fully empathize with the stern friend who was worried about her friend even though she probably went overboard a bit.
Clearly the smoker was already beating herself up for her own behavior. I'm guessing that was the worst punishment of all.
An Asian couple very short, skinny, and very old, walked so slowly inside the grocery that everyone glanced at them. They sort of shuffled along, seeming to nearly fall with each step. The woman was a bit heartier than the man and she patiently waited for him at various points along the way.
I don't think I have ever seen people walking quite that slowly - ever - and, for others to notice, it was a thing. In that grocery, shoppers stay in their own heads, not really seeing much else.
The couple wound up ahead of me in line to check out and I watched them go up to the checker, slowly put their items on the table to be scanned. Then they retrieved a few bags back from the checker, placing them slowly in their own small personal cart. They paid and slowly shuffled to the door, with the man pushing the cart but also leaning on it for support.
I was next.
"Those people are amazing!" I said.
"God bless them. They have lived a long time and are still going," said the checker. "The woman argued with me about how expensive these rolls were and removed them from her order!"
I looked at the rejected bag of rolls that were placed off to the side and smiled. "Good for her!"
Then the checker shook her head with a furrowed brow. "Where are their children? They should be helping them!"
"Maybe they don't have any children or maybe they died or something," I said.
The clerk dropped her head and stomped in place. "Oh I should not have judged! Of course they might be alone."
"That's ok. I understand. You meant well – you have concern for them!"
"I do. But I shouldn't have said that." She continued stomping, as if to punish herself.
"I bet this keeps them alive and healthy - having to get their groceries and walk around," I said.
"Maybe it's a kind of exercise plan for them!" She said and she stopped stomping, the furrow in her brow receding.
"That's right. This could be an important part of their day that they look forward to. They don't need children to help them!"
"Right!" She exclaimed.
We smiled and said goodbye, relieved and satisfied that we had wished the couple well. In fact, we clearly were a bit in awe of them.