I went on a walk through Capitol Hill this morning and at the base of the front steps of the Capitol Building, I wept.
It’s fair to say that the widespread use of irony has flattened huge tracts of human experience in our culture. What I mean by that is that we say stuff all the time in an ironic way (e.g., “C’mon, I love fruitcake,” or “A rainstorm is exactly what I hoped would happen on game day,” or “Nothing like a pleasant stroll through Times Square on New Year’s Eve!”) and for the most part, we all recognize that irony (at least our American version of it) is happening. Art does this, too: Jeff Koons, though I really like his stuff, is totally ironic (e.g., a sculpture depicts the Pink Panther hugging a busty blonde; there’s a series of photographs where Koons is engaged in explicit sex with his wife, but it’s all styled in romance novel memes.) But one of the results of this style of communication is that it’s risky to have a genuinely sincere moment of vulnerability or sensitivity.
For example, when I say I wept at the steps of the Capitol, it would be easy to be like, “Yikes, that is really cheesy, Fons”; it would be easy to cringe a little because being touched by architectural beauty and the grand symbols of our democracy has so been done before.
Yo, irony: suck an egg. I was a grateful, wobbly, sincerely weeping American this morning and it felt fantastic. Not indulgent. Not grody. Just honest.
And as I stood there and gazed up at the dome and cast my eyes all around at the fountains and the sculpture, at the wide open space of Washington, D.C., I knew that later today, there would be crowds of protesters, exercising their right to protest. I loved that the grand space was so open; there are no gates to the Capitol, just sidewalks that lead right up to the door. I felt good to be a taxpayer and that definitely does not happen often. (“I love paying quarterly taxes, don’t you??)
Leaving New York was hard. The breakup was harder. But one has to trust oneself. I’m so much happier here it’s almost shocking. There are wide-open spaces, there is clean air, there are trains where you can find a (clean) seat.
I wept in New York, but I never wept over it.