Sunday, my son and I took a short ride to Washington D.C. He was home for the holiday weekend and we both thought it might be nice to spend some quality time together, taking in the sights and sounds of Memorial Day weekend in the Nation’s Capital. I say sounds because every year, hundreds of thousands of motorcycles with riders from all over the Country, many of them vets, roll in a rather impressive procession starting from a parking lot of the Pentagon, riding through the streets encircling the Mall along Constitution Avenue, circling past the Capitol Building, and finishing the ride at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial for services and some good old-fashioned rousing speeches. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the event. There were nearly 400,000 riders from every State of the Union. The procession of motorcycles lasted nearly 5 hours, starting at 12 noon, and finishing up around 5 pm as we left.
Crossing the street to enter the walkways of the Mall took some dodging skill, as the endless line of hundreds of thousands of motorcycles created a bit of a challenge. The following picture was taken at the corner of Constitution Avenue and Pennsylvania Avenue. You can see the rear side of the National Gallery of Art in the background. Also, if you’re really bored with nothing else to do, or if you just like the sounds of motorcycles, you can view a quick video taken at the same spot.
It was a scorcher of a day, with highs hitting about 93 degrees (nearly 34 degrees C for my Fahrenheit challenged friends), so we took some refuge on our walk into the National Gallery of Art, a most favorite place of mine. We took in some DaVinci, Rafael, Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Monet, and a lot of other outstanding art (subject of a future post), not to mention a bit of air-conditioning, before heading back out past the Washington Monument on our westward trek to the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial.
But I digress. I don’t want this post to turn into some sight-seeing, guided tour of D.C. Not on this day for sure…
Reflections of the Day
Upon arriving at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, you could feel the mood slowly transforming, far more somber than anywhere else along the Mall. The most famous feature of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is the Wall, shaped in a V, increasing in height as you approach the apex, all made with black granite, polished to a high luster that creates a mirror-like perfect reflection. The wall is etched with the name of each soldier carved into the granite who died in the war. The effect of viewing the names, which seem to float in the air as the reflection of yourself and others appear behind, no matter where you move about is quite powerful.
As I looked at all the names, I was struck with the sheer number – over 58,000, each a young man or young woman more or less the age of my son standing next to me. I knew a few myself; friends who never made it home to live out their lives alongside the rest of us. Then upon further reflection, I began to wonder with each name I see – how many wives or husbands left behind? How many children? How many parents? How many friends? Suddenly the number mushrooms. As if the sheer numbers alone were not daunting, the visit today reminded me of another factor – time. Here it is 40 to 50 years later, and the collective sadness and memory has not subsided with so many of those losses. For many, the grief is still as raw today as it was so many years ago in a world so very different than today:
We who are left how shall we look again
Happily on the sun or feel the rain
Without remembering how they who went
Ungrudgingly and spent
Their lives for us loved, too, the sun and rain?
~Wilfred Wilson Gibson~
Yesterday was the wedding day of the daughter of friends of ours. The venue was beautiful, the weather quite nice for November, and the reception an immensely enjoyable occasion. All in all, it was a long but fun day. Sitting in the Chapel, we were treated to delightful music from a chamber ensemble and harpist, setting a serene and tranquil mood as we waited for the big event. Our friends are accomplished musicians and I just knew they would deliver a first rate experience musically with their selections; they did not disappoint. When the time arrived for the wedding procession, a full choral group of singers along with the chamber orchestra and harpist delivered a perfect rendition of Wagner’s “Treulich Geführt”, otherwise known to just about everyone else in the Western World simply as the “Bridal March.”
Opera geek that I am, I knew it came from Lohengrin, a Wagner Opera written and performed in 1850, more than 160 years ago. For people of today, the melody is immediately recognizable and is etched in just about everyone’s conscious mind, linked to the image of bride proceeding down the aisle to her groom-soon-to-be husband. It’s familiarity is so strong that my mind began wandering as it so often does. I began to wonder, what kind of reaction did Wagner’s first audiences have to this music when they first heard it, with virgin ears and no familiarity with the melody; with no frame of reference other than visual cues from the stage? What kind of impact did it have? How delightful must it have been to hear something new and so beautiful? What kind of emotion did this music evoke from a first time listener? Did the music compliment the visual betrothal on the stage?
Thankfully, my wandering mind was brought back to attention by the beautiful bride and the wedding ceremony. Either that, or it was my wife nudging and elbowing me in the ribs, snapping me back to attention. I suppose she’s seen that day-dreamy look on my face before…
Treulich Geführt, from Lohengrin (R. Wagner 1850)