“A free society has room for motion…and when the hearts and minds of a free society are given space to breathe and think…then that society will always seek and find improvement. Here, there is nothing static…no medieval logic that can prevent any of us from taking a forward step.” —Jackie Robinson, “This I Believe” radio speech, 1957
A few weeks ago, I hung out in the world’s largest library. The Library of Congress has 34.5 million books, a spectacular yet unfathomable amount. The Reading Rooms in the Library of Congress’ buildings, let me tell you, are some of the most beautiful public spaces I have ever seen. There are 22 two of them and as a docent said to me, are where to go if you want to “study in paradise.” I decided I did, so I signed up for a Reader pass and now I can go sit and read and write there whenever I want – except I’m leaving D.C. soon, but whatever. Have never been so happy to join something!
With my evolving “This is my America” project in mind, I explored the “Creating the United States” exhibition in the Thomas Jefferson Building and learned more about the founding documents of the U.S. than I think I ever did in school. I enjoyed reading that Thomas Jefferson’s original rough draft of the Declaration of Independence illustrated his “literary flair.” He was – obviously – quite the writer, but he was quite the reader, too. When the British burned the Capitol and with it the Congressional Library in 1814, Thomas Jefferson had the largest personal collection of books in the United States. Congress bought it from him – all 6,487 books – for $23,950. “I cannot live without books,” Jefferson once said. Clearly!
A few days later, I took a bus to Charlotte to visit some of my best girls (I actually started writing this post from a comfy coffee-house couch in downtown – or, Uptown, rather – Charlotte). I arrived in the Queen City on Cinco de Mayo and spent the night out with Erika, my college roomie and good friend. We spent Sunday eating fish tacos and cactus (it’s delicious) and walking around town.
There is a Bank of America ATM on every corner in that city. There are also very clean streets. Charlotte is neat. A few of us Elon girls spent the next evening watching Dirty Dancing and laughing ourselves to tears reminiscing over freshman year shenanigans. Can’t tell you how good that felt, sitting around the table with friends who I shared some of the best years of my life with, catching up and reconnecting. I was so glad to be there for a few days – thank you, girls, for being the best hosts.
And then it was on to Asheville and a few days with Jesse, which were as rejuvenating as ever. We rode trikes, went contra dancing (if you have never done this you MUST), bought ice cream from Norman’s ice cream truck on a sunny Friday afternoon, practiced hand stands in the park, spent a couple of evenings in town listening to music spilling out of the bars, and curled up and watched movies when the rain hit. Like I said — incredibly rejuvenating.
So. How does me being in North Carolina relate to my time in the Library of Congress and the beginning of the United States? North Carolina’s Amendment One, of course. Old news now, maybe, but it was really interesting being back in N.C. in the final week before this amendment was voted on. There were signs everywhere, it was all over the news, and my Carolina friends were all over it. While in D.C. the week before, I realized walking through that exhibit in the Library of Congress what critical roles imagination and vision played in the creative act of forming a self-governing United States of America. And I realized walking through Charlotte the day Amendment One passed how there is still a severe lack of creativity, cooperation, and informed decision-making in today’s political process. Our country has more cultural complexities than it ever has, but I’d argue we have a lot less collaboration and compromise than we relied on hundreds of years ago. That’s a shame, I think. In the quote up top, Jackie Robinson talked about taking forward steps, evolving with the changes taking place in our free society. In what direction are we headed, exactly? I wasn’t feeling too good about this until the next day, when President Obama voiced his support for gay marriage, making history as he did so. We’re an evolving nation – always have been, always will be. As a girl all too used to change, I’m proud to be a citizen of a country that embraces it.
The strength of these rights and freedoms depends on how firmly they stand in the hearts of our citizens. –Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, 2008