This was an incredibly full and busy day! We got up early and met in the lobby at 7:30 to head to New York's Penn Station and catch the AMTRAK train to Washington DC. It was there we met our most memorable New York personality, Station Manager Jermaine Jones. This fine gentleman not only gave us preferential boarding, but laughed, joked, and inspired the kids with an impromptu motivational speech on "Letting your light shine before all men!" He was so wonderful and positive that one of the girls commented as we boarded the train: "I want to be that guy when I grow up!" I even got a nice email from him after we left the station wishing us luck on our trip.
After that, we boarded the train for the 2 1/2 hour ride to DC. The kids mostly dozed; I read some more in Shirer's RISE AND FALL OF THE THIRD REICH, slept just a bit, and watched the countryside go by. We passed through New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and Maryland before finally arriving in Washington, DC around noon or so. We had a few minutes before the bus arrived, so I grabbed a Philly cheesesteak stromboli for lunch at a restaurant there in the station, and then we were on the bus and headed to the hotel. We drove past the White House and Capitol Building, plus some of the famous monuments, and then had enough time to ditch our bags and take a quick bathroom break. After that, back on the bus and headed for our first stop: Washington's National Cathedral!
Words cannot express how majestic this building is. I have loved the Gothic style of church architecture ever since I watched David MacAulay's CATHEDRAL for the first time with my World History Class over 20 years ago, and seeing the great Gothic cathedrals of Europe is high on my bucket list. Although the Washington cathedral is of modern construction, it follows the floor plan and architectural design of thousand year old structures like Notre Dame and Chartres. The soaring arches, flying buttresses, massive stone vaults, and beautiful stained glass windows that take up huge stretches of the walls are beautiful beyond words. I could have stayed there for hours, just soaking in all the magnificent architectural details. We attended the Evensong Service, sitting all the way up in the choir (for those unfamiliar with Gothic cathedrals, their floor plan is shaped like a cross - the long upright is called the nave, the crossbar is the transept, and the short, top part of the cross is called the choir). The music was unearthly in its beauty, and the organ was huge and haunting in its tone. The service was very scriptural; every song had Biblical lyrics, there were two separate readings from the New Testament, and the homily was inspiring. I envy my former student John Parker, who attended there every Sunday during his two years in Washington getting his Master's Degree!
From the sublime to the ridiculous, we left the National Cathedral and went bowling! (Ridiculous being my typical bowling score, of course!) We were at a place called "Pinstripes", where the food was pretty good and we got a couple of lanes reserved till 7. We didn't quite have time to finish our game, but I was second out of eight players after 9 frames (and Mikayla, I would have crushed you in the last frame, just sayin'!!). Everyone had a good time, and we got a lot of fun and silly pictures.
Anyway, after we left Pinstripes we boarded the bus for a wonderful tour called "Monuments by Moonlight." Our first stop was the National World War II Memorial, which is a gorgeous and fitting tribute to the men and women of the greatest generation America ever produced. Some of the quotes on the walls there I had heard before, some I had not, but all were inspiring. From there we walked up to the Vietnam Memorial, which bears the names of all 58,000 men and women who were killed in the Vietnam Conflict. I experienced my biggest "goosebump moment" of the whole trip as we were quietly walking up the wall, glancing at all the names inscribed there. My eyes just happened to light on one name on one of the taller panels - MY name. "Lewis B. Smith" inscribed for all the world to see. I was gobsmacked for a moment, and the kids were pretty freaked out too. Our tour guide looked up the soldier in question, and his full name was Lewis Benjamin Smith - mine is just Lewis Ben, but still, it was a very creepy thought to think that this young New Yorker who was killed in battle in 1967 bore virtually the same name as a Texan who had not yet turned four years old when he died.
From there we walked up to the breathtaking Lincoln Memorial. I am a huge fan of President Lincoln, considering him to be, hands down, America's greatest President. Reading his soaring rhetoric as it is inscribed on the walls, I find it testament to his greatness that northern and southern states alike contributed to this marble tribute to his memory, which was finished a century ago (which his eldest son, Robert Lincoln, lived to see dedicated). By this point it was getting very late and the rain was starting to pepper down, so we made a very quick stop at the FDR Memorial, which I want to revisit later today, and then the Martin Luther King Memorial, where the memory of the great civil rights leader is preserved. It was well after 10 PM when we got back to the hotel, so I got a nice hot shower, posted all my pictures from the day on my FB feed (you can see them there or at the Greenville Christian School FB page), and went to bed, so tired I didn't even try to write this blog post till this morning.
Funny stuff? Let's see, when we were struggling to lift our luggage into the overhead racks on the AMTRAK train, Mikayla commented that while she couldn't lift her suitcase overhead, "that's why God invented guys!" (Kind of hard to prove her wrong on that count, since I helped three different girls get their bags up there!) Nick's phenomenal ability to find the gutter no matter how he threw the ball down had us all giggling, and someone (I'm not sure who) said of the National Cathedral: "Man, if you farted in here the whole world would hear it!" All in all, though, it's been a grueling trip. Several of the kids are fighting off a travel bug of some sort, and we're hoping they will all be well enough to finish the journey these next couple of days and be well enough to graduate Friday night!
Oh, and to everyone who got to see Game of Thrones last night and then spoiled it for me on FB: I hate you!!
12,000 steps on Sunday. No wonder they call it a "day of rest!"
OK, now off to the Capitol Building!