These Stories Run Deep

If Ireland is a thin place, Greece is a deep one. Walking through the labyrinthine streets of the Plaka neighborhood in Athens, you don’t have to know that people have walked here for 7,000 years–you can feel it. Cobblestones worn by millennia of footsteps, the smell of roasting meat, the hot fecund air sticking to your neck. That citadel looming above the city, the Acropolis, icon of Western civilization that millions flock to every year–that was once new. The people who lived here watched that being built.

In fifth grade we studied Greek mythology–and by “studied” I mean we colored pictures from D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths while our teacher read us the stories. The birth of Athena, the tragedy of Orpheus, the downfall of Persephone…I devoured each and every one like pomegranate seeds. When we moved on to the saga of the Iliad (a toned-down, child-friendly version, of course), I couldn’t get enough of the drama, the wit. My parents bought me a copy of D’Aularies’. I read it over and over until the spine cracked and the pages started falling out.

On Santorini, I sat on the black-sand beach and looked out towards the distant island of Anafi, imagined living here thousands of years ago, seeing Athenian sails billowing on the seas. In Crete I swam into the brilliant blue waves, remembering the sirens and Odysseus and his journey through these islands. At the Palace of Knossos I walked the kingdom of Minos, touched the stones, saw how such a place could inspire the Minotaur. I walked a city that saw the fall of Troy, that held contemporaries of Achilles and Helen and Agamemnon.

These stories run through me and here are their roots. You can hear it in the crash of the waves, what these places have heard. A murmur of something unbroken, unchanged–stories that bind us through space and time. If I’m ever able to tell stories with a tenth of that impact, with an infinitesimal fraction of that power, it will just be a continuation of a tradition that started long before me.

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My Fellow Americans

Like many of my fellow Americans, I have a complicated relationship with patriotism.

In college, I minored in history, focusing mainly on early 20th century United States and Latin America. Studying those two surprisingly related topics — well, you don’t come out of it with the greatest view of our nation’s past. It’s a very different perspective than your typical high school course. Our country has a history of doing really shitty things, and an equally prevalent history of glossing over them for future generations.

Because of this (and let’s be honest, probably also because of many, many other reasons), I’ve never been your “rah rah” patriot type. Blind patriotism serves no purpose. Nor does blind cynicism. You study history, it shows one thing clearly: there is a lot of grey. Black and white rarely exist.

If you study past events — if you pay even a sliver of attention to current events — it’s easy to feel like our country has lost it way (if it ever had one to begin with). Jump on in the handbasket, we can all ride to hell together.

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to join a group of World War II veterans on an Honor Flight to Washington DC. I’d never been to “the other Washington” before. From what you’d hear on the news, you’d think the city is Gomorrah reincarnated — a hot bed of corruption, the living embodiment of everything wrong with America. Maybe it is. Here is what I saw:

At every memorial we visited, I saw strangers approach a veteran, shake his or her hand, and say, “Thank you.”

I saw a protest in progress directly in front of our nation’s capitol, proceeding unmolested, with no guards or policemen telling them to move along.

I saw smudged handprints on the Declaration of Independence.

At the Vietnam Memorial, I watched a family take paper and pencil and create a stone rubbing of a man named Smith.

Also in front of the White House, I saw a smiling group of people — men, women and children — unfurl a Kurdistan flag and take a family photo.

One thing that’s easy to forget while reading the history books — it’s all made up of people. History if palpable. It’s complicated and evolving. The Americans who came before us did a lot of good — they also did a lot of bad. But if you take a close look at people… I think over the long, slow curve of history, our arc trends towards progress.

United States Post Office.
United States Post Office.

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The White House

The National Archives
The National Archives.

Column on the National Archives.

The National Archives.

DC Metro.

Autumn in Washington DC.

Autumn in Washington DC.

Natinoal World War II Memorial
National World War II Memorial.
World War II Memorial
Ceremony honoring the veterans at the World War II memorial.
My grandfather, World War II veteran.
My grandfather, World War II veteran.

World War II Memorial

World War II Memorial

Washington Monument.

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Lincoln Memorial.

Lincoln Memorial.

Lincoln Memorial.

At the Lincoln Memorial, the spot where Martin Luther King delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech.
At the Lincoln Memorial, the spot where Martin Luther King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
The Korean War Veterans Memorial.
The Korean War Veterans Memorial.
Arlington National Cemetery.
Arlington National Cemetery.
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Honor Flight Honor Guard.
The veterans being greeted by an honor guard on their return home.