I visited my daughter in Philadelphia a few weeks ago and we spent a day walking around downtown, making the obligatory stops at the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, other historical landmarks in the Old City. It was either that, or cheap thrills gawking at medical grotesqueries at the Mutter Museum.
I’m not a flag waving patriot, and have my doubts about the direction of this country. It’s become clear lately that our democracy is not immune to corruption, demagoguery, conspiracy fanatics, and special interests. You could say I’ve become a little cynical. So in the heart of Philly, where it all started, it was easy to resist the urge to put my hand on my heart and pledge allegiance, my country right or wrong. I was trying to feel the magic, but all I felt like was a tourist getting an ideological sales pitch.
We stood in line for the tour of Congress Hall, which was led by a member of the National Park Service. He was all business and not terribly charismatic, but he had facts at his fingertips. And something else. He knew what was most significant about the place and what happened there, and he focused on that and let everything else slide. Who cares about the carpet or furniture or architect or number of bricks in the walls. It’s all about the test of our Constitution: the peaceful transfer of power. The first test – Washington to Adams – and all the successive tests. Such a simple thing! And yet, how many nations can’t do it! It’s incredible. The war and suffering caused by the inability to transfer power peacefully, one person or party to another. It felt like a revelation to me. Suddenly I was in awe of what the founding fathers accomplished over 200 years ago, a process that much of the world is still incapable of mastering.
It was an inspirational experience. When I left the building, I saluted the nearest flag and dabbed my moistened eyes.
Then we caught the bus for the Mutter.