As I type, thousands of committed prolife Americans are travelling to Washington to participate in the March for Life. In just a few hours, they will arrive in the capital, cramped and tired, and step into the stinging cold air that nonetheless must provide a nice change from the stagnant atmosphere of a charter bus. I somewhat miss the hassle and strain that I had to go through to get to D.C. for the march. The trip seemed like a pilgrimage, and the pain in travel added to the value of the mission.
Now, when I simply walk down Constitution Avenue after having gotten up, showered, and eaten breakfast, it seems a bit like cheating. I also miss the camaraderie of the trips. In undergrad., our Students for Life group would organize stays in the lounges of local colleges, and we would remain in D.C. for several days to see the sights as well as to participate in the march and in other prolife activities. Staying up all night in a Georgetown study lounge, discussing scholastic ethics or arguing whether Homer or Vergil gave his society the better epic are moments that I remember fondly.
Moreover, the city appeared more enchanting when I did not know it well. Of course, getting lost in the ‘hood back then because I did not know about the quadrant system (how many intersections at Fourth and H Streets are there?) make me appreciate my current acquaintance with Washington. Still, there is something marvellous about a new, mysterious town where the various places that you visit do not fit together to make an overall map but rather suggest an infinity of potential experiences.
I suppose that it is yet another example of how life is about trade offs. The new and alluring ceases to be mysterious once you live somewhere for long, but then you develop a relationship with a town, as it becomes an old friend. When I visited Paris as a sixteen year old, it was magical. When I returned to live and to study there, the magic wore off, but a new love developed. It became my town—no longer unknown, perhaps a bit less enchanting, but more loved and appreciated. Only by spending much time in a place can you begin to know all of its hidden charms that outsiders miss. My first impression of the Seine could not have been more romantic, and yet only when I lived in the City of Lights did I have the opportunity to enjoy the Parc des Buttes Chaumont on a windy day in the summer, the cozy hospitality of certain small Mediterranean cafés near Saint-Germain-des-Prés, or strolling through the Parc Monceau among April blooms on a Sunday afternoon after the liturgy. Contrast the emotional riches of the adolescent crush with the faithful marriage of many years. Each has its own delights, but the latter rests superior.
Anyway, I wish all of the marchers a safe trip and a fruitful time in Washington. I hope that the legions of teenagers and college students find the city wonderful for the hours or days that they experience it.