The Capital Steps
It didn’t take long, about as far as the front edge of the Reflecting Pool, before his upper lip started to drip, causing him to dab at it with his already damp handkerchief. He intended to walk down the Washington Mall from the Capital, but he could see trucks parked along the pedestrian walkway, then half-remembered hearing or seeing something about ongoing repairs. Instead, he cut north and headed toward Constitution, intending to walk the entire way to his car, which was, hopefully, still in the deck on 17th and Pennsylvania. After a few more steps, he felt the trickle start down his sides, under his underwear and along his spine. A bright, though hazy, sun hung in the sky, baking everything it saw and making him realize that he would be drenched in his own fluids in half the time it would take to reach his car.
Anger, frustration, as well as the humiliation he was expected to take in stride had built up, as it did on most days, until his only option was to walk it off, sweating and cooking under the sun, his excess energy spent reaching his car, the fight dissipated… at least until the following day. He should be used to it by now. His prior service in the Air Force and two terms as a U.S. Representative had taught him, if nothing else, to agree when you don’t agree and to shut up when you want to talk or fight back.
Michael took a deep breath and squinted against the light. Ahead and slightly south was the spire of the Washington Monument, jabbing into the blue cloudless sky, at what, he had been never sure. Some expert in the cluster of museums and exhibits along the Mall would know the meaning of the original Egyptian obelisks, but did the designer and builder of the Washington Monument feel that same way or did he just use a familiar shape, an expected design, to add a monumental element to the Washington sky, one copied by example from the ancient Romans, the French, the English who all had stolen obelisks from Egypt at one time or another. The grandeur of Washington, its stately buildings constructed of white stone, rising larger than humans as individuals can hope to achieve, simply was another idea stolen from the Romans and before them, the Greeks. The colonial fathers are given credit, but ancient ideas were there to copy long before their birth.
Michael walked with determination, covering the two miles easily as he usually did but giving him time to think and analyze his day and speculate about the days ahead. Glancing behind him as the Capital receded and ahead as the grounds of the White House loomed, he felt the essence of the city, its buildings, its history, its illusions and its pretense. All necessary for the heart, the core, of a great collection of people who have had a long history of self-determination and survival.
As he thought about it, the newer buildings, the ones from the twentieth century, were not as grand or stately as the Roman copies scattered about. The Romans got it right, and capital buildings of most of the western world have copied their essence throughout history. Until now… when the accountants, the lawyers, the supervisors and the people’s representatives have their say, and their say is to build conventionally, cheaply, rectangularly and without distinction. The resulting trade-off is obvious.
The very idea of representative government was copied as well and from the same ancient sources. Even many of the same words had been kept…council, senate, podium, rostrum and so on. Michael was part of the system and had actually felt part of it, for awhile. It was sinking in that his voice didn’t matter, never did. Other issues, other causes, other parties were important. Not ideas, nor ideals. It was all an illusion for the voting public who only saw and heard what they were told. The cattle who lined up on election day to vote into power those whose name they recognized or whom their party put forward.
A man with a chisel may chip away at a mountain his whole life without removing a significant part of it, but he will leave a mark, his life and work will be noticed. Chip away at politics though, and you will never leave a scratch. It will go on the way it has always gone, toward a hidden destiny, one not obvious before it arrives, then without stopping will change direction and move again. A wild train crossing and recrossing time, with no stops, no hesitation, no waiting for instructions, no sense of wrong or right. And one, in Michael’s opinion, that was headed in the wrong direction.