CityLife: 7 October 2013

Life in the city, like life everywhere, gives us plenty of examples of the best and worst of the human condition. (I believe this will be a recurring theme over the next year.) People in DC aren't necessarily better or worse than they are in other places I've lived, but the urban environment, close proximity and national spotlight tends to bring attention to the bad and minimize the good.

We've been in the city now for almost a month, and during this time, we've experienced a mass shooting, a man setting himself on fire on the National Mall, a car chase that ended in another fatal shooting on the Capitol grounds, and a US Government shutdown. Due to our close proximity to the US Capitol (5 blocks away), all of this happened within a mile of our place.

The Navy Yard shootings shocked many people here, especially when considering the fact that it occurred on a military base and in a "secure facility".  Even more personal to us, it's where Ginger works. And most recently, the community (not the politicians, but the local residents who live here) have been frustrated by the Federal government shutdown. For some people, the shutdown will have little impact on their life, but for many people in the DC area, it touches many areas.

There is something terribly sad and ironic about the Lincoln Memorial surrounded with barricades and fences. The Memorial is an imposing & constant reminder of Abraham Lincoln's effort to unify the Union, yet it's barricaded and "off-limits" due to our current Congress's inability to compromise and work together.

We got out this weekend to experience the reality of the shutdown. The National Mall, which would have been crowded even though it is October, was eerily quiet. There were no lines at the food trucks, and many of the parks that we often use for recreation were closed and the streets blocked. The Commissary, where we do much of our grocery shopping was closed. A friend who works as a DC Tour Guide hadn't worked for a week. Everyday, I discover a new way in which the shutdown has impacted life in DC.

Bad news for museum-goers.

An empty World War II Memorial, except for the solitary NPS ranger.

Many of the green spaces in DC are administered by the Park Service; as a result, all of them are closed.
Lest you think all the news from DC is bad, I have seen (and continue to see) inspiring examples of people rising above their circumstances.

In the aftermath of the Navy Yard shooting, acts of kindness and solidarity flourished. We were contacted by people we barely knew and had barely met-a realtor, a next door neighbor, a random friend of a friend---strangers we hardly knew but who knew Ginger worked at the Navy Yard  The Washington Nationals gave away free game tickets to anyone associated with the Navy Yard. All across the city, you could find examples of solidarity and perseverance in the face of mindless violence.

Local support for the Washington Navy Yard.

In the case of the man who set himself on fire on the National Mall, passing joggers (the Mall is a huge draw from runners) stripped off their shirts and extinguished the flames. Despite the constant message that big cities are impersonal and city dwellers shun involvement, random strangers did get involved. (The man was airlifted to a nearby hospital and tragically died soon after. In a bizarre twist, he thanked his rescuers before he was airlifted to the hospital.) I've seen this all over DC since I've been here: locals giving directions, helping neighbors and assisting those around them.

At this point, I need to affirm that I don't have some simplistic view of human life, that everyone is happy and nice to each other all the time.  We certainly see crime, substance abuse and homelessness here, just as in other communities. But I've been encouraged by the good that I've seen, and good continues to happen here.

It reminds me of a quote by the late Stephen Covey: "Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response." Good and bad things happen's how we respond to these events that are important.

We are not victims.  We are not automated robots. We have the freedom and the ability to chart our own future.  Choose wisely.

In other news..we are moving into our new place tomorrow!  Stay tuned for details.

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