Thursday, May 16, 2013

Cloak of Naivete

Today our class was briefed by a Congressional staffer from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Sometimes I feel as though Washington, D.C. is a place locked in a synchronous orbit, eternally showing only one side of itself to the sun so that there is a half of it captured in continual sunlight and a half of it plunged into a dark and cold never-ending night.

Washington can be both this fairy-tale place where adults play kickball and croquet in front of the White House, where complex, hoppy, citrusy IPAs flow from taps like rivers, and food trucks from every gastronomic niche imaginable line up to feed kabobs, kimchi tacos and pho to the hungry masses and also a brooding place of dark trench coats, partisan political mudslinging, crowded buses and subways, and disgruntled cashiers at Starbucks, Anthropologie, Lululemon, and nearly every other service establishment in the District.  These two worlds incomprehensibly exist side by side--the light and dark side of the same moon--and I find myself passing back and forth between them constantly.

Washington feels every season deeply, with hubris, each expressing itself in its own way, in its own language. Just when we thought winter was done with us, it belched a bellyful of thick, wet, coagulating snow on us, and now spring is acting equally emo, like an emotion-driven shoe-gazer, hands thrust deep into its pockets, pining. Kites can fly in front of the Washington Monument. Pink flower petals magically fall from trees like pink snow. The Nats host the O's in an extended home stretch. And yet, a congressional staffer can descend upon my office like Nosferatu, presiding over a cloud of dank gloom, and describe in excruciating detail all that is wrong with the relationship between the administrative and congressional branches of the federal government as though lecturing a high school social studies class.

A place that can support at least two establishments dedicated solely to the craftsmanship of donuts and fried chicken is also the home to the deepest divisions plaguing the American spirit.

I am having a love-hate relationship with DC.

The staffer, a 10-year veteran on the Hill, attempted to debunk stereotypical acrimony between two branches of the federal government. Though he, in my opinion, was largely unsuccessful, he could have come and talked about Angelina Jolie. That is to say, it wasn't him, per se. It could have been anyone at any time talking about the IRS, the AP, or Benghazi. I don't form opinions on these things. They are too complicated, and there are smarter people than I to figure them out.

But there is a disconnect between the work I do as it is portrayed in the media and, say for instance, my Tamil class.

When we first returned from Brazil, people would ask me what I did. And when I told them, they would follow-up by asking, "But what do you do?" It is hard for some people, I believe, to wrap their heads around exactly what it is I do on a day-to-day basis. Moreover, it is even more difficult, I believe, for them to understand why I think it might be important to do and worth the sacrifices I have asked Elise and my children to make so that I can do it.

It took me a very long time to put this into words or, that is to say, what I do and why I do it.

I won't address that here. That would take this blog to places I don't want to take it, but I will admit I am naive. I don my cloak of naivete proudly. I am an idealist. Like Tony Stark climbs into an iron suit and fires repulsor blasts from his palms, I climb into my armored suit of idealism. I like that about myself and I want to keep it that way. I don't want to be like a congressional staffer. I don't want to ever become negative or bitter or disillusioned. I never forget that this opportunity I have been given is a gift and I never want to think that I can't make a difference, that what I do is insignificant or unimportant, or that I can't make the world a better place. I feel most of the people I work with feel the same way.

I'd like to think if it wasn't for me the Brazilian marine turtles might be a little worse off today than they might be otherwise.

I like the side of DC that faces the light better.

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