Hope and History

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At the World War II memorial, Nick Crabtree and Payton Fales (back) and Wyatt, Sally and Janey Fales (front) meet a veteran of the war.

“Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.”

These are the words carved onto the brand new Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, DC.  The memorial looks like a mountain. Except for a piece from top to bottom is missing from the middle, creating a huge gap.  This is the entrance to the memorial.  The “missing piece” is set several yards ahead, looking as if it has just slid out of the mountain and the front of that section has a sculpture of Martin Luther King Jr. rising out of the stone.

It takes one only a few moments to understand the symbolism.

“Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.”

As an adult there has been a lot to process so far on our trip across America, but for the kids especially, this past week in Gettysburg and Washington D.C. there has been an almost endless stream of new information about the history of our country, the world, and the nature of human beings.  We’ve learned the lengths people will go to win their freedoms that are rightfully theirs, or to secure liberties for others.

Visiting Gettysburg, the enormity of the carnage and death that occurred was impossible to comprehend.  From the mountain of despair of that battle, of the Civil War, Lincoln gave the ailing country a stone of hope, the Gettysburg Address.

From Gettysburg, we went to meet up with our friends Edie and Nick in Washington DC.  One of the first places we visited was the World War II Memorial.  While moving in its own right, the day we were there it came to life with World War II vets, traveling in a group with matching yellow windbreakers.

Seeing these once strong, brave young men who heroically served, now being pushed in wheelchairs or slowly making their way around the enormous encircled memorial brought a lump to the throat.  We met, shook hands with, and thanked a few of the real live heroes.

The Wall of Freedom is a section of the memorial where 4,048 gold stars are mounted – each one representing 100 Americans who died or remained missing in the war. In front of the Wall, we met one of the veterans; his wife pushed his wheelchair.

“A thousand World War II vets die every day,” he told us.  His wife told Edie and I, “Teach your kids patriotism,” and repeated it again as she wheeled her husband away.

In the Holocaust Museum, a few days later, I tried to help my younger kids connect the dots:  “Remember those old men we met at the WWII Memorial?” I asked. This is the war they were fighting in.  They were fighting against Hitler and the Nazis.

To millions, those young American troops were stones of hope rising from a mountain of despair.

We went to the Smithsonian Museum of American History.  A piece of the lunch counter from the Woolworths in Greensboro, NC, where a galvanizing civil rights sit-in took place, is on display.  On Feb. 1, 1960, four freshmen from the Agricultural and Technical College of North Carolina sat down at the white-only lunch counter and ordered a cup of coffee.  They were denied service and asked to leave. Joseph McNeil, Franklin McCain, Ezell Blair Jr. and David Richmond stayed until the store closed, enduring name-calling, spiting, and hours of a hate-filled crowd threatening them. Each of the four young men was a stone of hope chipping away at a mountain of despair.

We participated in a program at the museum with a professional actor, called “Join the Student Sit-ins” and “Sing for Freedom,” right at near the lunch counter where we were transported back to 1960 Greensboro.

When history touches the heart, it has more of a chance of sticking in the brain.

The Martin Luther King Memorial was moving – and enormous – as are the Jefferson and Lincoln memorials and the Washington Monument. Yet the enormity of each grave at Gettysburg, the palm-size bronze stars at the World War II memorial, the slow men in yellow windbreakers, and the stools from the Greensboro Woolworths also emerge as colossal stones of hope. Hope that we will never tire in our quest for individual freedom.

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