Thursday, March 8, 2012

Opportunities Missed

If you could live your life over again, what would you do?  If you knew then what you know now, what would you do differently?  If you were at the same stage of development then that you are now, how would you handle the challenges that came up?  The ones that defeated you?

As for me, one instance stands out vividly in my memories.

I was 13 years old and on a train trip to Washington D.C.; my birthplace.  Among many "ports of call" on that trip, one stands vividly in my mind:  the Washington Monument.  Standing majestically in the Capital area of the city, the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool at its base, this obelisk dominates the scene.

A familiar scene for me as it was part of the "furniture in the living room" of my childhood.  Downtown Washington D.C. was where we went to go shopping.   The downtown area was our 1950's shopping mall, for almost everything except groceries.  The major department stores were there.  If we wanted to see the dentist, we went to D.C.   If we needed to see the doctor.  If we needed .... you name it, it was in the metro area.

It was quite an adventure for my sister and myself to go to D.C. for whatever purpose with our mother.  We would dress up in our organdy dresses complete with hats - as little girls did in those days.  Mom wore a dress, as mothers did in those days.  Our bus stopped below the Pentagon to take on and disgorge passengers.  And there was always a glimpse of the Washington Monument.  It dominated not only the scene but my childhood memories.

As a little girl growing up in the nation's capital, I had no idea that my "hometown" was unique.  Or how awe inspiring some of the "furniture" was to others.  Especially since I grew up with a father who insisted that we actually see the sights, the monuments, the museums, etc.

The Monument held a special place in my memories as well.  On the Fourth of July, we would gather there with our parents, blankets and sparklers with thousands of others, waiting for the sun to go down and the fireworks to go off.

But I had a deep, dark secret as I went to the Washington Monument that day with my Girl Scout troupe.  I was desperately afraid of the tower.  The fear of heights (open stairs) and the fear of closed in spaces (elevators) held me fast in its terrifying grips.  Our troupe was destined to climb up those fearsome stairs into the unknown.  The first steps were easy.  They were concrete.  I could do this.  Until.  Until we hit the second level where the stairs became open meshwork.  My heart seized in my throat.  My legs refused to move.  Uncontrollable currents zigged and zagged up my legs.  Terrified I could not go on.  Our fearless leader was less than sympathetic to my fears.  However, even she eventually realized that I could not go up any further.  In disgust, she ushered me down to ground level, steered me across to a row of benches and ordered me to stay there and not move while she rejoined the troupe.

I felt relieved to be on tierra firma.  Yet at the same time, I felt ashamed.  So very ashamed.  Everyone else in my troupe could do this.  Why couldn't I?  What made me different?  Oh, how I wished I could be like the other girls.  Unafraid.  Able to get into elevators.  Able to walk up flights of stairs.

And now I am.  Able to do those things that were beyond my ability almost a half a century ago.  Through hard work and determination, I can walk up once frightening stairways.  I can get into elevators.

Flying over buildings, though, in a single bound is still beyond me.

I've never been back to my birthplace, my hometown since that visit in the spring of 1963.  I've never seen the White House, the Washington Monument, the Reflecting Pool up close and personal since then.

Yet, in my heart, I want to go back one more time.  I want the opportunity to walk up those stairs.  To take pictures of my ascent up and descent down.  Of my victory at the top.  Not alone, though.  With my best friend and spouse, Papa Bear, by my side, holding my paw in his.  Maybe even have the cubs, cub-in-laws and grandcubs along with their cameras to record the event; the victory that took half a century to achieve.

Yes, in ways it will be bittersweet as the Washington D.C. of the 1950's no longer exists. The big malls have come.  The downtown core has decayed.    2011 and earthquakes have come.  But the Monument, the obelisk, still stands proud and strong.  It is still there.

Waiting for me to come. Waiting for me to conquer.  Waiting....

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