As my plane descended into the capital, I could make out the vague glow from the Washington Monument illuminating the intersections of the mall. This image immediately struck me. Feelings of power, achievement, determination, hard labor and motivation overcame me; essentially my picture of America was being framed through the small hole in my airplane window.
My initial image of “the quintessential ideal of America” was not the first picture to be burned into my mind during my time in D.C. My next encounter with powerful images hit me while touring the Pulitzer Prize-Winning Photos display at the Newseum. Images of a man mutilating another man’s body with a flagpole, a bloody baby being carried by a firefighter, a women who had undergone mutilation from an African tribe all captured raw human emotion – and in some instances such evil and human destruction toward our own race – that they nearly brought me to my knees.
My next encounter with powerful images was to be expected, but not to such an extreme degree. Our group decided to take a short venture through the Holocaust Museum, in which impactful images engulf visitors. I had been through the Holocaust Museum in Europe, so I knew the pictures would tug at my emotions, but I at least thought I could reign in my emotions to get through the exhibit.
Yet as I traveled in the footsteps of a survivor through the museum, one print stopped me short. Blown up in black and white was an image of Nazi SS guards leading a group of women (young enough to be my peers) out to the middle of the forest to be shot and buried in a small hole in the dirt. My mind raced to what I would have been feeling and thinking being in their positions, and I had to quickly change pictures because the inhumanity of the image so disturbed my soul.
One of my last departing images of Hilltop came to me on a more uplifting note and to some degree was a foreshadowing. When our group was passing through the street that separated the Supreme Court and the Capitol building, I noticed a group of young professionals off to the side dressed in their pinstriped suites quickly finishing their lunches. This image really speaks to the nature of the city.
As confirmed by many of our speakers, D.C. is a fairly young town where hard work, endless dedication and a honed skill set can propel you to a top position within a fairly short amount of time. Now this isn’t the case in all situations, but seeing these young professionals sitting in front of some of the most powerful institutions of our country really drove home an image wanted by all of our founding fathers – America as a land of opportunity.
D.C. has not only engrained these four images into my head forever, but it has also renewed my sense of American pride. It was refreshing to see how our capital city actually lives up to its name of supplying education and giving its people a wide variety of opportunities. I am positive I will return in the future in hopes of burning a new set of images.