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.