1. Personal

Lost at a Landmark

As I write this, it’s not yet Election Day, and I’m publishing this a day early. I can’t fathom focusing on this once the initial results come in Tuesday night.

Whoever wins, this country where I’ve lived my whole life comes off looking lost.

I got an appreciation for what it’s like by walking around midtown Manhattan with my six-year-old daughter this Monday night.

She’s a savvy city kid, decades ahead of where I was with street smarts, but don’t fault her for inheriting her father’s sense of direction. My car could be the only one in a parking lot, and I’d still get lost trying to find it.

We were grabbing pizza Monday night in the neighborhood, and she wanted to play a game we played once before: she would navigate as we walked home, and I had to go along with wherever she directed us.

It didn’t work out so well last time, and the weather was warmer then. Monday was, give or take a few degrees, the coldest night we’ve had since March, and it was late on the eve of an election where we passed by businesses boarding up their shops. It would have been smart to turn down her request.

I, however, am a sucker.

My daughter got us to our street with just one wrong turn, and it seemed like we’d make it to our building without too far of a detour. Then she turned the wrong way on our street, and that led to another wrong turn, and, we got a prolonged walking tour around our neighborhood.

I thought she might pull it off when she finally noticed the best landmark of all landmarks: the Empire State Building. She started running up 5th Avenue toward it, and then we paused at a corner that was a block-and-a-half from our home.

Then she turned the opposite direction, and we were walking the wrong way yet again.

It was a striking metaphor on Election Eve.

We had all the landmarks we needed. But landmarks alone don’t matter. You have to be able to interpret them the right way.

When you get to the landmark, do you approach it or steer clear? How do you navigate around it?

The past four years have made our country encounter a slew of landmarks:

Andrew Jackson’s racist, anti-governmental populism.

The Chinese Exclusion Act.

The Spanish Flu.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Roe vs. Wade.

Richard Nixon’s impeachment.

The Paris Agreement.

Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court.

Our nation, while younger by centuries or millennia than the mother countries of so many of our immigrants, was founded on enduring landmarks such as the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the rebellion against tyranny, and – not in order of significance – the institution of slavery.

Some might even think it’s time to bubble wrap the whole nation and give it landmark protection status.

One of our greatest exports is producing landmarks that the whole world can recognize. This often involves taking others’ landmarks and making them American icons (see also: democracy and slavery).

Our national navigation skills are rarely better than those of my six-year-old.

Within four years, I’m confident my six-year-old’s navigation skills will be good enough that I can be blindfolded and dropped anywhere in the city with her, and she’ll be able to figure out how to orient us.

I’m not so confident that four years from now, our nation’s compass will be any sounder.

I do love this country though, and my hope is that for the next four years and forevermore, we’ll return to the words of Emma Lazarus, a landmark’s very own poet, from “The New Colossus”:

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

May America be a beacon yet again.

And may we all serve as beacons – as landmarks for our loved ones.



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