ABBREVIATING HUMAN LIFE
Nameless & Faceless: Opportunities for Evil

November 1994By Patrick Gahan

The Rev. Patrick Gahan is Senior Chaplain at St. Stephen's Episcopal School in Austin, Texas.

I did not want to go. I had until that time cloaked my fear of that place. But now my friends were determined that we should go. Our first stop would be our visit there, then dinner and some laughs, they said. My stomach churned, making me sick, reminis­cent of how I felt in the hours preceding my high school football games. I could not bow out diplomati­cally, and there was only one car, so I climbed into the backseat of the Toyota Corolla, an Alabamian on one side of me and a Brooklynite on the other. I sat si­lently on the hump as they chatted unceasingly across my knees.

It was a 30-minute drive from the National Cathe­dral, where I was staying, to that place. The travel was slow on Massachusetts Avenue through colorful, con­gested Georgetown. We left the major flow of traffic and cut right on 22nd to make Pennsylvania Avenue. We passed the university bearing the first president's name, which from that side bears more resemblance to an apartment building than to a college. We took another right on 17th, a street mostly concerned with the stony edifice of the Executive Office Building. I craned my neck around to peer outside the rear win­dow to catch the warmer sight of the southern portico of the White House. On Constitution we went left, all five of us looking wildly for a parking space. I prayed for a long walk and got one. We were well past the Washington Monument when we found a space somewhere adjacent the Labor Department.

It was a friendly day. The Mall, with its lush, long-fingered grass was covered not so much with tourists as with co-ed softball teams. The five of us meandered past the white obelisk of the Washington Monument, whose sheer size demands center stage of the Mall. After walking across the football field of concrete at the base of it, we were back on the grassy carpet aligning the Reflection Pool. I could see the face of Lincoln peering down upon me.

But at the end of the Pool we bore right, avoid­ing the constant gaze of our raw-boned 16th president and climbed a shaded hill amply covered with families and young lovers picnicking. As we topped the hill, and from that angle, I was amazed at its smallness. Perhaps it looked diminutive because of the way it was shoved in the corner just outside the gaze of Lincoln's left eye. And perhaps it looked small because of its blackness placed in the midst of so much white granite. This was my first view of the Vietnam Memorial.


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