Yesterday we visited the tourist sites in Washington D. C. Basically, we saw memorials to those killed in war or to those who tried to stop war and other human atrocities and were assassinated because of it.
We visited the Washington Monument but couldn’t go to the top because we didn’t have a ticket. We visited the holocaust museum but couldn’t see the exhibit because we didn’t have a ticket. We visited the Martin Luther King Memorial and the Korean War Memorial and the Lincoln Monument (we didn’t need tickets for those.).
At the Vietnam War Memorial someone left a note behind, propped against the gabbro reflecting wall. It said: I kissed the ground at El Toro. A promise kept. I had to swallow my tears in a hard lump down my throat. A 12-year old girl, her ponytail high and bouncing, turned to her mom and said, “Well, that’s traumatic.” But I imagine that child has no real idea what traumatic even means. And neither do I.
D.C. is a beautiful city and I was happy to be there. But it is a bit depressing remembering the worst of humanity. I suppose, though, that is why we remember. We hope with all hope that we won’t repeat the mistakes of history even as we’re repeating them.
After a day in the crushing heat it was time to go. So we retrieved our car and left the city and weaved through traffic back towards our campsite. We stopped for dinner at a chain restaurant named and designed to resemble an Irish Pub. The Cubs were playing on TV. We sat on the back porch underneath a patio fan and sipped beers. The suburb we were in was just like everywhere else except, inexplicably, all of the cars in the parking lot were backed into their parking spaces. Brian said, “It’s probably so they can get away faster.”
Later that night at the campsite we lit a campfire to keep the bugs away. The air was cool but the humidity clung to our skin with the woodsmoke. I am still reading about Buddhism so I sat in my camp chair and read by the firelight.
One of the best things I have taken away from my study of Buddhism is the knowledge that life is fluid. Obviously, I knew this on some level, but it has been important for me to realize that I am predisposed to think that once something is a certain way it will be like that forever. For example, I might think that once I have enough money I will always have enough money. Or that once they are married they will always be in love. Or that once he gets healthy he will stay healthy. But life doesn’t work like that. Things come together and then they fall apart. Then they come together and fall apart again. Pema Chodron said that, not me. Life is fluid.
I read my book until nearly midnight and then got up to brush my teeth. The bathroom at the campground was a 15-minute walk away. It was dark and the beam of my headlamp illuminated the path in front of me. Everything else was as dark as a closed linen closet.
The moon above was a full shine of silver-gold, pregnant and round. The full expression of everything the moon can be.
I turned off my headlamp to see if I could navigate by moon alone and while I stood waiting for my eyes to adjust I thought about walking meditation. I just finished reading The True Secret of Writing by Natalie Goldburg who is a writing teacher and also a Zen Practitioner. She has her writing students do slow walking meditation where they (I imagine) creep around like hunting cats, every movement slow and intentional, their minds tuned towards vast stillness.
I thought, I will try it. Right here in this silent campground, cloaked in darkness, I will try it. And if anyone would have seen me they would have alerted security because I looked like a lunatic, creeping along in the darkness, trying to focus on my breath. I moved slowly and with intention, aware as my right foot met the ground and then my left. My bracelet dangled around my wrist. My breath went in and out.
But the moon kept casting shadows of the tree branches on the ground and my mind kept wondering at the shapes they were making. It was almost like the moon was asking to be noticed. And so instead of focusing on my breath I let myself focus on the moon. I put my full face up to her full face.
There were frogs croaking in the underbrush and the wind was shaking the branches of the trees. The moon was perfect. It felt like a gift to be roofless and rootless, walking to the bathroom through the Maryland woods underneath the light of this perfect moon.
I knew that in the hours and weeks that followed the moon would become smaller until, one dark night, there would be no moon at all. But I also knew that, after that moonless night, there will come a moment when someone will spot her, the very first sliver of her, glowing in the sky anew.