Re-experiencing the Mall through visitors.
I have lived in the Washington, D.C., area most of my adult life, and have always enjoyed the National Mall, the Smithsonian museums, the monuments – the whole scene. I would be the one to gladly accompany our out-of-town guests on their jaunts downtown, and usually choose to spend the day on the National Mall with my family on my birthday or Mother’s Day. I even sometimes venture down by myself for a quiet afternoon. So when we relocated from western Fairfax County to Old Town Alexandria, and I began looking for a nearby volunteer opportunity, the National Mall was an obvious choice for me.
I have worked now as a VIP volunteer at most of the National Park Service sites on the National Mall, but being a bit of a Lincoln history buff, I volunteer most often at the Lincoln Memorial. It is fascinating to be there and observe the cross section of the world that comes and goes through those columns.
I think what has surprised me most about it is how many people are there for the first – and maybe the only – time in their life. It is such a unique (and usually awe-inspiring) event for those first-timers, in contrast to someone like myself who has been there so many times it almost feels like an ordinary place. In fact, I would say the best part of volunteering is seeing the National Mall that I am so fond of, but also so familiar with, in a new way through other people’s eyes.
My favorite story (so far) is of a nice couple from Brisbane, Australia, who were visiting the Lincoln Memorial last summer. We were standing there right in the main chamber in front of the statue talking, and the wife was telling me all about their marvelous trip throughout the U.S. Her husband was listening to her and glancing around, when his eyes rested on the inscription of the Gettysburg Address on the south wall. His face lit up in excitement and he said to his wife “Look honey! Fourscore and seven years ago! From Kindergarten Cop!”
I must have looked absolutely stunned as I realized that there were people in this world whose only link to “fourscore and seven years ago…” is a line from an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie! But what a great opportunity for me to share with them the context of that speech, and what Abraham Lincoln means to us as Americans. Having chances like this to “re-experience” the National Mall myself through its visitors, and to (hopefully) enrich their experience with my own perspectives, has been such a fun and rewarding part of being a VIP.