Memorial Day Weekend – A Time for Reflection and Remembrance

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Running my fingers across the black marble. Feeling the names of those who were lost etched in the stone. Without a doubt, one of the most powerful sensations from my time in Washington D.C. last week. I was there to attend the NAR Real Estate Conference, but I was also THERE – in our Capitol.

I spent Mother’s Day visiting the monuments with my family. As an Architecture student at Washington University in the early 90’s, Maya Lin was/is something of a legend to me. So, sharing the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial with my girls was particularly moving.

Maya Lin and “The Wall”

Lin embodies the type of creative thinker I greatly respect and admire. Her works are clean, simple and powerful. They are the net result of a great deal of thought, intention, creativity and (so Lin says) a little bit of magic. She is also the first disruptor that I can remember who deeply inspired me.

While still an undergraduate student at Yale, Lin entered the competition for the memorial. About her winning submission the selection committee said it was: “an eloquent place where the simple meeting of earth, sky and remembered names contains messages for all.” Notice they used the word place. She was not just creating a statue or an object to be looked at, she was creating a place to be experienced. This marks a shift in thinking about how we publicly remember our veterans and victims of tragedy.

Lin’s intent was to create an apolitical monument, but the politics of the Vietnam War were difficult to avoid. Like the war itself, the monument proved controversial. The Vietnam Memorial (aka “the wall”) was unlike any of its predecessors. Veterans groups at the time simply didn’t get it. They wanted the expected patriotic/heroic symbols. At best, they felt Lin’s monument only seemed to honor the fallen and not those who had survived the war.

When Lin first visited the proposed location for the memorial, she wrote, “I imagined taking a knife and cutting into the earth, opening it up, an initial violence and pain that in time would heal.” The fact that her vision was so clear and so true, and that she stuck to it despite all the detractors, is admirable.

Sacred Place

After the memorial wall was unveiled on November 13, 1982, the controversy quickly subsided. Her memorial proved to be a pilgrimage site for those who served in the war and their loved ones. It became a sacred place of healing and reverence, just as Lin intended.

When you visit the Vietnam Memorial you can’t help but interact with it. You start by walking next to a wall which is just a few inches off the ground. By the time you get to the midpoint, the wall is over 10 feet tall and towers above you. Along the way you read the names, touch the wall and see your own reflection in the big “black mirror” of polished stone. Family and friends take pieces of paper and pencils and create rubbings of the etched names of the fallen. Visitors leave items behind. The day we were there, someone left a purple heart in the trough next to the wall, presumably below the name of a loved one who had given the ultimate sacrifice.

Reflection and Remembrance

Reflection in the wall is so simple and yet so brilliant. Seeing yourself in “the wall” reminds you that we are all in this together. Those who serve/have served our country are doing so on our behalf. Take a moment or two out of your weekend to reflect upon and remember the sacrifices that have been made for you.

Wishing you peace.