Tonight I’ll be watching “A Capitol Fourth” on PBS. It’s what I’ve done every year that I didn’t care to fight the crowds and the heat and the mosquitos to watch a local fireworks display. The year I got to see it in person will always be special, but maybe even more so this year.
That summer I was interning for Congressman Charlie Stenholm in Washington, D.C. A friend of mine from law school was also in D.C., clerking for a law firm that same summer, so we had made plans to meet and spend the Fourth of July holiday together. She and her family were going to ride the Metro to the National Archives that morning so we could start the day off with the drum and fife corp, followed by the reading of the Declaration of Independence. Both of us underestimated the number of people who would gather so early and as a result, we weren’t able to find each other in the massive crowd. Remember this was in the days before cell phones, so we had absolutely no way of reaching each other. But being alone wasn’t going to stop me from enjoying my holiday.
After the reading of the Declaration of Independence, I walked across the street and climbed the steps to stand in line for quite some time, just to look at the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, and as luck would have it, the Magna Carta, which happened to be there on loan.
The line was long. And some people needed to read every word.
Afterward I started making my way down the mall, toward the Capitol, where I planned to stake out a spot on the upper level of the steps and watch the concert on the lawn and have a spectacular view of the fireworks. I gave no thought to the distance, the heat, or my ability to reach my destination. It wasn’t even noon and my upper arms were already sunburned. That’s how hot it was.
I soon realized how hungry I was and started looking for something to eat. I was also a poor intern so I opted for a hot dog and a bottle of water from a street vendor. When he told me, “that’ll be $7,” I nearly choked. I kept that bottle and filled it up the rest of the day.
I never gave a thought as to how far it was to walk back to the Capitol.
The next building I passed happened to be the National Museum of American History, one of the Smithsonian museums that I hadn’t been to yet, so I stopped. I walked every inch of that building, and took the stairs because the crowd made waiting on the elevator a waste of time. I had ground to cover. Things to see.
I didn’t sit down all day. Why would I do that?
Next in route was the National Art Museum, so I went in there. Walked every inch. Saw every painting. Stood in front of a lot of them, contemplating, appreciating. As much as the untrained eye can appreciate.
By that time I was hungry again and it was getting close to time for the concert on the lawn to begin, so I filled up my water bottle before I left the museum and bought another hot dog and started my walk to the Capitol steps. I splurged and bought a bag of M&M’s to eat during the concert.
All this time I’d been lugging my Canon EOS 630 around my neck, with my Canon Hi-8 video camera on my shoulder, and my pockets were stuffed with used and unused rolls of 35 mm film. I didn’t give a thought as to how heavy those cameras were.
I didn’t give a thought as to how far I still had to go that evening. Every now and then I just stopped and looked around, still letting it sink in where I was. Realizing what day it was.
I gave no thought as to the number of steps I climbed to stake my claim on a seat for the concert and fireworks.
It felt good to sit down on those steps and eat my hot dog and M&M’s, to meet the people from Philadelphia and New Zealand sitting around me. I knew that I would have to walk a few blocks after the fireworks was over to catch the Metro to take me home. And taking the Metro often meant stairs – lots of stairs – with more ground to cover once you were underground. But I wasn’t thinking about any of that.
The fireworks were spectacular.
Twenty years ago it never entered my mind that there might be a time when I couldn’t do all that, but right now I don’t have the energy to walk down the steps to get on the Metro, let alone cover the territory I covered that day. Some people never get to do in a lifetime what I got to do in a day, and I’ve had lots of those days.
I’m thankful for all those days I’ve taken for granted.
I’m thankful in advance for the days ahead, when strength will return.
And if I ever go back, I probably won’t have hot dogs for both lunch and dinner.
No telling how much they cost now.