Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Attention! Keep The Pace!

Sunday was my birthday, and we had an opportunity with some other homeschoolers (from our former church) to get a group tour of the Pentagon on Monday--something that is more rare since 9/11/01. I thought, "YES! ! When will we get this opportunity again?," Tom agreed, and took the day off, so I signed us up and we made it a Family Day to celebrate my birthday. Last year, Mount Vernon all day. This year, after the Pentagon, we went from Jefferson Memorial ALL THE WAY to the Smithsonians with dinner at the National Museum of the American Indian near the Capitol, and everything in between.


At slightly-after-noon we entered the Pentagon tour. I had given my children three worksheets in the car--one simple shape, to discuss how a pentagon is defined as a closed polygon with five equal sides, and two sheets with different angled aerial photos of the building, so they could see those five sides in the architecture. One of the picture pages also included a few bullet points about the building: 23,000 employees; one of the largest office building in the world; built during WWII; and a few details about the 9/11 attack...etc.

At 1 PM, my husband said this to me in the car as we drove away:
"Well, if only someone had said, 'Hey! For 45 minutes you're going to walk down featureless corridors--and anything interesting you do see--well, we won't give you time to look at it...'"

Yep. It was a frustrating time! The online directions to enter at the Visitor's Entrance were not all too clear, so that all the members of our 20-plus-person tour group entered frazzled, hot & frustrated, having attempted different tunnels and different front doors before finding each other right around 11:45, as we were instructed. We were encouraged to NOT bring cameras, since they could not be used anywhere on the tour--and were then warned that if anyone DID pull out a camera during the tour, it would be confiscated by the POLICE... but, once we gathered in the group room, we saw a photo opp lectern, with groups gathering for a picture or two...ah-ha! You CAN take photos BEFORE the tour in the group gathering room...UGH!!

Then, once we were finally lined up for the tour, we fast-walked for a mile (whew--amazing exercise) past what I think were fascinating museum-quality displays in the decorated halls, separated from drywall halls imprinted with "UNDER CONSTRUCTION" on them. I lagged behind as much as possible to try to read some of the historic time line placards, look at some of the collections, uniforms & displays, or talk to my son and daughter about things we were whizzing by--but one soldier led us like we were in Basic Training, and another tailed behind to make sure we had no stragglers wandering into unauthorized territory (like a bathroom or a stop for a drink at a water fountain). We were flown through in tight military escort formation. If I had a photographic memory, or could speed read, we were still walking too fast to absorb words or images! An educational travesty.

We were allowed to stop at just a few specific places--three reproduced oil paintings by artist John Trumbull, illustrating the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the resignation of General Washington before taking Presidential office, and the surrender of the British at the end of the Revolutionary War. Or, at least I think that's what we saw--I was the only person who took out a paper & pen to simply scribble down "3 pcs art, Artist John Trumbull." The tour leader barked out some facts about the paintings pretty quickly, and then we moved on. The images had no obvious relationship to the Pentagon as a building, or its purpose, so it was confusing to us why these were the highlighted presentations. I felt horrendously conspicuous with a sharp pen in hand...which I imagine could be used as a weapon to hold up the tour guide and ask for an educational moment!! I tucked it back into my purse quickly as we continued. I'd read ahead & slimmed down the goods so that my purse held only a notebook, pen, a change of clothes and a baggie in case my daughter had an accident.

Finally, we were taken to the 9/11 Memorial section of the building--it was a subtle space within walls restored where the plane hit. We were directed to look out the window at two low buildings in the background, which were almost grazed by the incoming airliner. More than one of us was moved to tears--mostly because of how raw those moments remain for us, rather than by the treatment of the physical space. Still--we were given Just the Facts, Ma'am, shown a guest book, TOLD about the chapel and asked to keep moving. I had put up with enough speeding past important objects, so I asked (and tried to not sound incredulous), "Are we allowed to sign the book!?" Well, since there were so many of us, we were asked if just one of us could please sign to represent the group. I was given the go ahead. I wrote as fast as I could so as not to hold us up (from memorializing a week after Memorial Day..), and tried to express...something...eloquent. This is a major TEST! Write a delicate/sensitive/poignant entry in 20 seconds. GO!

"June 2, 2008. Homeschoolers of Truro Church are touched and moved. Our sympathies go out to survivors, and we honor those who lost their lives serving our nation. Thank you." And...CUT! Let's speed walk again. Come on!! [It is sorely inadequate!! Erase Erase!! Start over!! Couldn't I even have remembered to get the name of Jesus in there!?]

Well, again, I didn't want to be pushed completely away from goodness on my birthday, so I parted from the group momentarily to peek my head around the corner and get a quick look into the interfaith chapel, where a few people were gathered (not from our group). HELLO!?!? Here we are a CHURCH group, and we are not shown the chapel, nor allowed to enter...a homeschooling group, and we have NO TIME to teach! No time to learn! I felt the officer's hawk eyes on me...so I moved on quickly. I cannot even describe a single attribute of the room to you right now.

Along the halls, as we exited, we rushed past beautifully crafted quilts, framed one after another--that was my favorite part of the tour--must have been at least twenty of them. Maybe even 50 (one for each state?)! But, we couldn't stop to stare, admire or even investigate. The escalators at our exit were flanked by two humongous quilts representing all the lives lost on 9/11. The patchwork American flag to the left displayed the portraits of every person who perished in Pennsylvania, DC and New York City. It was stirring and beautiful. The other represented the same in stars to include color distinctions for police and fire fighters who were killed that fateful day.

The Truro group asked us to join them in the Fashion Center Pentagon mall (where we had all parked, to walk under I-395 to the Pentagon) at the Food Court for lunch. While it would have been nice to catch up a bit with the kids & parents, we chose to go into DC to try to recover the day, since we only had to cross the bridge to get to the Thomas Jefferson Memorial.

Then we walked EVERYWHERE and it was glorious!!!

THANK YOU, DC, for all you offer!! World War II's deeply sunken monument with your handsome illustrative reliefs--we touched each at our own pace. Jefferson's towering stature, and his profound words of liberty engraved eternally into the domed walls around him. The Potomac, its cherry trees, and our long shadows on the walk back to our car at sunset. Thank you, DC, for a hot pulled buffalo sandwich with a view of waterfalls, white tea and a perfect breeze!! Thank you, DC, for the expansive open space where groups of softball players assemble every 200' for a seemingly spontaneous game--only there are hundreds of these players, and they carry their own bases, and wear street clothes at these end-of-the-day gatherings! Thank you, America!!! Thank you, tax payers! Thank you for the Hope Diamond on my 38th birthday!!

Teagan: I give you dat one. And dat one. And dat one.
Mommy: Thank you, Sweetheart! I'd give you THAT one if I could!

(She is pointing out one gem after another at Natural History...charming me with promises of emeralds and beryls..even a pink diamond! I point to a gorgeous hand-shaped tiara, and truly wish I could place it lovingly on her head).

OH!! And thank you, Al Gore, for inventing the Internet!! Without it, I would have learned little about our one teaching moment at the Pentagon!


His pieces:
Washington resigns

The Red Coats Surrender

Declaration of Independence

1 comment:

tami said...

We went some time last year, and we were with a large group that got split in half because there were so many of us. But the officers who gave our tour were great about letting us take as much time as we wanted--when they divided our group they put all the strollers into one group, so of course it took us longer to get anywhere, and they were very patient with us. The kids asked lots of questions and the officers answered everything and encouraged more questions as well. We spent a lot of time in the memorial section, and it was very moving--I think every adult in our group signed the book, but I don't really remember right now. We weren't rushed at all. Sorry you had such a negative experience--I guess it depends on who your tour guides are!