Thursday marked my first day taking time off from work since we started our trip, even though I did have two meetings in the morning that I had to take. As most people have discovered during the past 18 months, working from home can be a blessing, but it also makes it incredibly challenging to unplug. One area of focus for me in 2021 is to be present wherever I am, especially when I’m supposed to be home.
Our plans included hitting two of the Smithsonian museums on the National Mall: the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the National Museum of Natural History. In order to have most of the day to ourselves, we dropped Tiger off at the greatest thing since sliced bread, Dogtopia. He is a very social dog, so spending the day with his friends is a great way for us to get away for awhile and for Tiger to get a good workout. He’s always exhausted when we pick him up, which makes him a great sleeper afterwards.
We started our morning at the African American History & Culture Museum, which kind of looks like three baskets on top of each other, or maybe a bird’s nest. Either way, it’s a stark contrast from the majority of the other Smithsonians, which were built out of stone and granite in keeping with the other buildings in Washington. The first mistake we made was only allowing 2 hours between our start times with our timed entry passes. The facility has six floors, and each floor would easily take 45 minutes to an hour to thoroughly see. Instead of taking our time, we found ourselves rushing each other around, even as we took in several exhibits we really enjoyed.
The first exhibits we viewed had to do with culture, music, sports & style, and it was a throw back to my childhood, as a lot of African American culture became mainstream with the advent of things like cable TV & the internet, which created new and unfiltered distribution channels. I ran across those fancy Adidas Run DMC mades so popular with their hit “My Adidas”, as well as the Air Jordan 1’s, which helped Nike become the most recognizable brand in sports. Ever year when the new Jordans would be released, it was the shoe I always wanted but never was able to buy. My dad wouldn’t put out more than $40 for a pair of shoes, so I had to watch my friends sport those down the halls of my school.
More impressive than the shoes was the display of activism through sports, which has always brought with it a level of scrutiny that never seemed fair. We watched some of the congressional testimony of Muhammed Ali (born Cassius Clay) in protest of the Vietnam War, as well as a replica statue of the raised fists of Tommie Smith and John Carlos on the podium at the 1968 Olympic Games. Every time an athlete protests through sports, a price is paid by the establishment.
A modern equivalent of that is Colin Kaepernick, who has been black-balled by the NFL, although his athleticism and skill at quarterback led the San Francisco 49ers to back-to-back NFC Championship games in 2012 & 2013, but somehow was no longer good enough to even be a back up in 2017, the year after he started kneeling during the National Anthem of each game in 2016. Instead of engaging in an honest dialogue about racial injustice and police brutality, the establishment displayed discussed in Kaepernick “disrespecting the flag”, which was never the focus or even a through regarding what his protest was about. But this is a strategy of those in power, to deflect criticism and redirect the focus to something else. It’s one of the reasons progress has been so slow to see equality play out in the United States. Yes, some African Americans have succeeded against all odds, but many still struggle to have the opportunity to make something of themselves.
It all started long ago when arrangements between European merchants and powerful African leaders struck deals to trade goods for enslaved workers, many of which were kidnapped and transported from the interior of Africa by powerful African leaders to the coast for the transaction, and the 25 million estimated slaves who were plucked out of Africa devastated what was once a thriving economy and a wealthy nation. With the enslavement of Africans to Europe and the Americas, malnourished and unable to speak the language of the country, their opportunity to succeed was eliminated, and generations of Africans would suffer as a result. Although the United States officially abolished slavery in 1862 with the Emancipation Proclamation and in 1868 with the 14th amendment, it did so without providing any financial footing for freed slaves. Imagine being freed from the bondage of slavery only to be left with no money, no housing and very little opportunity to work. I can only imagine how difficult that was, however glorious to be free, for former slaves to make a life following their freedom.
It also gave me great empathy for the struggle so many Americans have faced throughout the centuries solely because of the color of their skin, of which they had no choice, just like I had no choice of being born in Missouri to two white parents. It’s amazing that factors such as these are the only reasons for treating another human being as a lesser person, and it even sounds crazy as I type this. If only we would see the humanity in every person regardless of any circumstances, especially those circumstances which they did not choose. If only we would truly live out those powerful words of Martin Luther King on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, that today would be the day in which we would choose to judge people by the content of their character, not by the color of their skin. And in order to do so, it requires that we get to know a person first, an investment of time and energy on our part to truly know a person and understand the road they have walked in this life.
After nearly two hours, we only made it through about 60% of the museum and could have easily spent the rest of the day in there, but we had to move on to the National Museum of Natural History, which I swear I can’t visit without thinking the exhibits come alive at night and play around together in the great halls of the museum. That imagine is forever sealed into my brain from the Night at the Museum movies.
We made our way around the different exhibits, from the ocean to the dinosaurs and everything in between, and what really struck me was how definitive the exhibit was on how the earth began and how old it was, and everything else evolution teaches to our kids in school. It is no longer a theory, in practice; it is now only a theory in name – the Theory of Evolution. This is where science falls short, and as someone who loves science – the scientific method, physics, chemistry, anatomy, you name it – the creation of the universe is not something that can be determined using scientific methods, because the origins of the universe can’t be observed, tested, or repeated. It only happened once, which makes it a mystery to everyone and one that only allows for circumstantial evidence in order to attempt to explain the events of history, including the origins of the universe.
Even looking through the largest telescopes ever made only shows us that the universe is expanding, and playing that track in reverse would show us a universe contracting to, eventually, nothing. And what happened in that moment when nothing became something is and will always be unknown to scientists and every other person living in this universe, but don’t we all want to know? Of course, we do. We want to know how the universe began and how this story will all play out in the end, just like watching a movie. In Ecclesiastes, one of the books in the Old Testament of the Bible, the author writes, “He (God) has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” We want to know what happened in the beginning and what will happen in the end because it’s a part of our DNA, but we cannot, and it drives us crazy. And especially for those who don’t believe a being exists outside of the universe who may have created all of this, the madness leads to theories which are incredibly difficult to believe:
- that all life on planet earth came from a single-celled organism and created the complex parts that exist in each, such as the eye
- that humans descended from apes
- that the strongest survive (how do little old grandmas even make it in this dog-eat-dog world?)
- that emotions & morality, which are intangible and unidentifiable in all of nature, suddenly sprung out of nowhere in the human experience
- that the earth was the only planet to form an atmospheric layer making life possible on this planet
- that the relationship between the sun & the earth, including the tilt of the earth’s axis, which is constant and make it possible for life on this planet occurred by chance,
- that the relationship between carbon dioxide and breathable oxygen, which are in perfect harmony between plants and animals, creating a fresh, recirculating supply of needed elements for all living things, just happened out of random chaos.
- that the incredible amount of code/data in DNA formed out of nothing
It is far easier and more intellectually honest to believe that a Designer, a Creator, an Information Giver is responsible for the incredible design and order we see in our world and in our universe, but that idea isn’t even suggested, and the scientific story of the creation of the earth is not taught as an idea of what happened, but as a factual representation of what happened, with no other ideas allowed. It’s one of the many reasons we’ve chosen to homeschool our children, to break them free from this type of isolated reasoning in order to allow them to explore many ideas when it comes to scientific theories such as the Theory of Evolution.
As a result, it made our time at the National Museum of Natural History a challenging one to enjoy outside of the replicas of animals not often seen in our day-to-days. Another gem, pun intended, was the opportunity to see some of the largest and most precious jewels ever discovered, including the Hope Diamond, which has a fascinating story of being sold, stolen, sold again and discovered by a jeweler who donated it to the museum for the masses to view.
After our time at the Natural History museum, we headed over the the massive row of food trucks to grab a late lunch/early dinner, and eat on the lawn of the National Mall looking towards the Capital, which is a beautiful shade of brilliant white in the early afternoon. I had bacon Philly Cheese Steak with fries, Tammy had a burrito bowl that had some kick to it, Hannah had a burger and fries, and Naomi had two corn dogs. We finished our dinner and continued our walk throughout the Mall to see some buildings we’d yet to see, including the original Smithsonian Institute, which is a really cool, red stone building with a huge garden on the south side. Most of the museum is underground, so the garden is actually a roof-top garden on the street level. It had these beautiful wooden doors on the south entrance with some incredible design features on the top of the building. But unfortunately, it was closed.
We finished out time at the National Mall with a walk towards the capital to enjoy some ice cream from another food truck, this time soft serve in a waffle cone. With all the walking we did, it was nice to sit and enjoy some ice cream and talk about our favorite things we saw that day. On our way home, we added one more stop, and that was to see the National Cathedral up near Georgetown, which was in inspiring site sitting in the middle of a quaint little village of row houses, all of which were valued well over $1M on Zillow. The Cathedral towers over the landscape as a rising phoenix of hope.
We headed back to pick up Tiger from Dogtopia, then back to the campsite to rest up for the next day. I went to practice a little golf at the local course in the park, working on some chipping and putting before hitting a few wedges on the range. It was a fun, but exhausting day, and some great memories were made.