I was struck today by a simple phrase that I kept hearing over and over: "It is possible. You can make a difference." Whether implied or directly spoken, it seemed that everyone I met today had been placed in my path to echo the concept until it sunk in.
I started out the morning with Final Cut Pro training with the director of our program, Amos. As he was explaining it, he mentioned that it could be useful, not only as a professional, but as a person. We could use these skills as a tribute to friends and family members for weddings, funerals, etc. and touch someone’s life.
After training, we went to Politico, a news organization devoted to covering politics. Hearing how influential this media outlet is from the young journalist speaking to us really challenged me to put my excuses of age and ignorance behind me. I don’t know whether she actually even mentioned changing the world, but it was definitely there. She even said she wants to go back to teach future journalists when I asked if she would recommend going to grad school.
I had to leave the group shortly after she and another Politico journalist spoke because I had a 2:30 meeting with the representative from the Waco district, Congressman Chet Edwards. I met him on a plane last weekend on my way back from Waco (see below). He invited me to come to his office to a meeting he was holding with some other interns. More on this in a second.
To get there, I rode the metro. I looked for a seat, knowing I had awhile until I needed to get off. As I saw one, I caught the glance of a lady next to an empty seat. Unlike most cityfolk, she smiled with her eyes and didn’t look away quickly. I became curious, but dismissed it. A few stops later, I went to sit by her. We struck up a conversation. Turns out, she was headed to the capitol as well. She was visiting her son who works for FEMA. Mary, who now lives in San Antonio, told me she was originally from Columbia, but their family moved around a lot because her husband is in advertising. It was always hard to leave somewhere because their son, now 21, has Asperger’s. She was a psychologist, but wasn’t in practice because of the moves and all the years she had had to take care of her son full-time. This stunningly beautiful woman and her soft accent captivated my inner story-teller. However, we arrived at our stop and navigated our way to the capitol. When we parted, we hugged and exchanged blessings.
With a smile, I headed down Independence Ave. to Rep. Edward’s office. I felt very official as I walked down the hall lined with state flags and shiny state seals. Seeing the Texas flag, I struggled to keep my serious, unphased city professional look on. When I got there, the front desk area was crowded with other college students in business dress. Turns out, they were all Aggies. His assistent was a Baylor grad, but besides that, I was the lone non-Aggie. However, this worked well in my favor, as the first topic of conversation was, naturally, the Big 12. As the Baylor representative, I got a unique opportunity to speak up and later, when he looked at me, I took the liberty of adding a Baylor perspective to the conversation. At one point, he asked us all who knew what we wanted to do as a career. Like I have for so long, I was able to answer with confidence. He seemed to approve and spoke of protecting the First Amendment, interestingly enough, using Baylor president Ken Starr as an example.
I don’t know nearly enough about his politics, for sure. Mainly just his major topics and that I have heard many very conservative Republicans say he is the only Democrat they would ever vote for. Despite my lack of deep background on the man, he was a compelling speaker. As a journalist, I am always a bit cynical towards politicians, but with the appropriate grain of salt, I was really encouraged as a student by the things he said. If his heart is behind it all, he is going to not only impact change, but inspire it in others as well.
Like I said, I am not a politically-obessed person or a party guru, but he was definitely one of the many people that looked into my eyes today and told me I could make a difference in this world with the time God has given me.
After leaving his office, I realized I hadn’t had time for lunch earlier. The only place I knew from past experience to eat around there was in the ground level of the Madison building of the Library of Congress. I had eaten there with friends from my National Youth Leadership Forum on Law when I was here during my senior year of high school. It was kind of special to me that I got to do it again. Leaving the cafeteria, I decided I would finally get to see the inside of the Jefferson building (the Library of Congress they show in National Treasure and all the movies). I have been to DC twice before and never made it inside that door…
In my search for the elevator out of the cafeteria, I met Helen, a young Asain pre-med student from UNM! She was super cool and we walked over to the Jefferson together. We couldn’t find the right entrance, but in our search, we met Corl (pronounced Carl), an Australian Vietnam vetern looking for the entrance as well.
In the end, we found out the police were conducting an investigation inside (still looking for info on this… yes, I know, I’m a journalist.)
So Helen decided to go to the capitol and Corl and I decided to make our way back to the metro (everything was closing soon and I was in my super dressy meet-a-congressman clothes). On our way back, I asked a few questions about what he was doing while in the U.S., which led to his story on a project he is working on. He is researching the casualties of a crash that happened in his hometown in Australia during World War II. A U.S. Army Air Force plane with about 42 people on board crashed, leaving one survivor, a man who lived in Wichita Falls, Texas until his death in 2004. Only six of the casualties’ names were known when a memorial in their honor was constructed in Corl’s city, which made Corl curious about what happened to the rest. Since then, he has discovered the names of all but one. He even got a helpful tip this morning on who it could be, as well. Corl is also making it his mission to visit every one of the 42 men’s gravesites across America. It is a long journey, especially when taking into account that he lives in Australia, but he finds so much purpose in it.
So Corl and I talked about his visit to see the only surviving soldier in Texas before the man died, his other travels to cemetaries, this project, the people he has met, the families he is helping to heal after decades of not knowing what happened to their loved ones… Eventually I suggested that he write it all down. He said he thinks he is too old and tired to write a book, but he really believes in writing as a preservation of life as well as a tool to help those who cannot experience the same things. For example, he told me, an American lady he had met that morning blogs about her travels and exciting life, but was feeling bad because her friend (also an Australian, coincidentally) has a bone condition that confines her to her home. After he heard more of the situation, he encouraged the woman to keep blogging to her friend because it seems like the blog is a way for the friend to see the world. The woman is the eyes and ears and other senses for her friend, and many more people, who will never have the ability to experience much of the world. He was so encouraging in his words to her that I almost didn’t notice when he began speaking to me directly.
"Never stop writing. You never know what is going to make a difference to someone. You are their eyes and ears. You show them the world and that could change everything for someone someday."
He stopped when he saw my reaction of wonder. I hadn’t told him I was a writer. I hadn’t shared much at all, actually, only that I was from Texas and grew up near an Air Force base. I told him it was a funny thing he should say these things because I am an journalist. He… well… it’s hard to describe someone’s non-verbal reactions in words, but he was surprised and couldn’t believe how relevant his message had been to a young reporter. I told him it was almost like he was a special encouragement from God today. He smiled and I knew I hadn’t offended him by the mention of God. I do try to be careful, but it was too real and my intution was gratified when he later said something about "putting it all in the Lord’s hands." I don’t know if he saw my eyes light up at that or not, but I couldn’t help but wish I could convince him to write it all down for the future.
Two hours after I had left Mr. Edward’s office, I boarded a metro train back to Foggy Bottom. A darling baby was the only random friend I made on this journey back, but the metro got more crowded than I have seen it thus far and my fingers were tapping against my side, ready to write it all down.
It was a magical day, more likely a blessed one, and has brought back my faith in my traditional 15-minute friendships I have come to expect everywhere I go. Especially where public transportation is involved. I only hope that one day I will get to meet all of these wonderful people again. I don’t know if we will remember each other or not, but it would be nice to hear the ends of their stories. 🙂