Imagine it for a minute. Nothing. Somewhere between the Korean War Memorial and the ever looming, alabaster figure of President Lincoln there stands a room. It is a small room, the size of a tiny studio apartment. The walls and ceiling are made of clear black granite. On a spring day, when the sun is shining, it appears to glow. Beyond its stunning features, its contents themselves are wholly unremarkable. Inside it is absolute emptiness.
The monuments around it all boast a rich and proud history. In some cases, it’s a history that we proudly cling to. Jefferson standing rigidly, an unbending symbol of the triumph of the individual over the menacing tentacles of the state. Lincoln staring passionately into a world that did not always share his vision, commanding dignity and respect for those who have been silenced by the oppressive spirit of commerce without compassion.
There are also the nightmares. The memories that we keep close to us in order to remind us of our most terrible moments. The misunderstood carnage of Korea. The endless horrors of Vietnam. Memories of so many wars where bodies and minds were mangled and destroyed. These memorials are there to remind us never to forget those who gave up their place in this world. Of tomorrows never realized. Of futures never lived. Of families smashed into a million pieces. These are the last testimonies of those who never came back and rejoined this bizarre American carnival of ours.
While each of these monuments and so many others throughout the Capital District are deeply meaningful, it is the empty room that represents the most to me. It is the monument for the wars that were never fought. A symbol of the lives that were never lost. It is endless possibility. In this room there is no time. It is a monument to the dramatic, life-altering power of a moment recognized.
Its central message is stillness. It seeks not to change the world, only to understand it. This memorial doesn’t spread the American Way of Life around the world, or seek to share the gift of democracy, or do much of anything at all. There are no words inscribed and there is no plaque attached. It announces nothing, proclaims silence and only communicates one fleeting, whispered message.
The room is a memorial to a world without struggle, stress, or strain. Where people can live together in complete acceptance of one another. Where people don’t wish to change those around them. Where people simply are and that is enough. This room is meant to be a place free of judgment. Everything and everyone are okay in this room, not because of any great achievement, but simply because of the beautiful array of skin, bones, organs, and personality that comprise their identity. In this room, you are enough and worthy of every bit of beauty the world is capable of showing you.
In truth, there is no place like this in Washington or any place else that I know of. Peace is often spoken of. We pay a price for peace or we struggle for peace or we are awarded prizes for who among us are most peaceful. But where in our world is peace? Real, enduring peace. It is certainly not embedded in our institutions, which encourage us to push forward and milk every drop of energy from our bodies and spirits. It is not in our homes, or our jobs, or our competitions. It is most certainly not to be found anywhere within our wars. This memorial would be one small island in an ocean of turmoil. At least there would be one place a person could go and simply be without being anything in particular. It is not a religious place, not a secular place, not a capitalist place, not a communist place, not a liberal, conservative, pro-life, or pro-choice place. It’s simply a place for people who want to be something more than they are labeled. Even for a moment.
#1 by Johnny Ringo on March 11, 2012 - 11:53 AM
i began reading this thinking “sweet…that’s one of my meshuggah albums”…now i’m thinking “that’s the strangest review of a meshuggah album i’ve ever read”
#2 by Keith Spillett on March 11, 2012 - 2:26 PM
Johnny Ringo….I was genuinely hoping someone understood this to be a Meshuggah album review. I was worried I was too vague, but you completely caught it. Tip of the hat to you good sir!
#3 by Jim Wheeler on March 11, 2012 - 3:58 PM
This is a beautiful essay, Keith. It absolutely flows!
Of course there is absolutely nothing in humanity’s nature that would ever promote such a monument. This is not what we do, it is not what we are. We are tribal and we like nothing better than a challenge. But maybe someday in a far distant future it could be.
Universal acceptance of diversity. Diversity of opinion, of religion, of no religion, of skin color, of countenance, of temperament. We do seem to be drifting that direction, but we have a very long way to go before the median discourse changes from angry to respectful.
You motivate me to consider governmentspeak.
1. The Defense Department. Defense? Yes, in WW II. Not in Korea, Vietnam, nor Iraq War #2. Maybe Iraq #1 – our oil was threatened. The DoD has been largely a hammer in search of a nail.
2. No Child Left Behind. Should be No Child Left Unmeasured For Uniformity.
Yes, we have a loooooooong way to go.
#4 by Keith Spillett on March 11, 2012 - 8:21 PM
Thanks so much Jim! I think you are so right about the fact that this probably will never happen. That illuminates an aspect of our natures that really gets in the way of genuine peace. I can feel the drift within myself if I get quiet enough. It’s a troubling feeling.
1. Department of Defense would have made Orwell stand up in his grave and sing The Battle Hymn of the Republic. Peace is War.
2. No Child Left Behind is also Orwellian in the fact that eventually, if a school struggles, the government gets to leave the entire school behind. For the sake of using “market principles” in education. One of the most poorly conceived abominations ever perpetrated on a public.
#5 by Jim Wheeler on March 11, 2012 - 4:10 PM
The MLK monument might come close to fitting, come to think of it.
#6 by victoriagrimalkin on March 11, 2012 - 5:21 PM
Sounds like nirvana to me; not the grunge band but the Buddhist state of non being. I try to find the nothing when I have insomnia, but it is a self perpetuating nightmare of trying not to think a thought.
#7 by Keith Spillett on March 11, 2012 - 8:14 PM
I’ve been working on that concept for the past six months. I am not predisposed to sit quietly and it has been a challenge. I get brief flashes of calm, followed by an avalanche of unconnected ideas and fears. The Middle Way sure ain’t easy but I’m starting to think it is the only viable path that I can follow.
#8 by Universe Number Five on March 12, 2012 - 5:53 AM
MU! This is absolute excellence!