Yesterday, I felt like Elle Woods after Congresswoman Rudd pulled her support for Bruiser’s Bill. For those of you who don’t get the reference, I highly recommend you stop reading my blog and go watch the critically acclaimed masterpiece that is Legally Blonde 2: Red, White, and Blonde. You have to watch it about five times before it starts getting really good. And then to truly immerse yourself in its message, you have to pick up your life in California and move it across the country to Washington, D.C. with the mindset that you are going to change the world. Then, let a couple of weeks go by until you feel like you have reached a point of existential crisis. At this point, watch it again. Finish with ice cream, and then you will finally understand its true beauty.
I spent the entire day yesterday in downtown D.C. It felt all kinds of wonderful to be this independent force dancing my way to wherever I pleased, sampling crepes in Dupont Circle and journaling over chai tea in Chinatown. I also spent a chunk of the day surrounded by fellow Ducks. There is a group of Duck alumni that meets at a bar in D.C. for the football games each week. It lights up my face every time I hear them all sing the fight song and I realize I’m thousands of miles away, but still at home. A fabulous friend of mine once wrote on the back of a painting that the two of us created late one evening in Eugene, “Home is wherever you are. Don’t forget it.” It still rings true, Katie B. — thank you.
I was passing time in limbo, waiting for a coworker to get off work so that we could tour the monuments by the light of moon, when it happened. I was sitting by a fountain outside of the Navy Memorial and I was feeling pretty nice. My soul was warm from my earlier game day beer and the energy of the city. I felt peaceful as I people watched. I observed as tourist groups and locals fluttered back and forth and all around until one person in particular caught my eye. He was a middle-aged man and his attire, the way he walked, and his reactions to the events going on around him all painted the picture of homelessness and mental illness.
When Elle Woods found out that Congresswoman Rudd had decided to pull her support for Bruiser’s Bill, she was so hurt and it wasn’t just because she was bummed that she wouldn’t be able to move forward, but rather because it was as though that moment was telling her that she couldn’t do it because no one really cared enough. She was in Washington, D.C. to make a meaningful change; she was running on passion and strong conviction, believing that D.C. would be her ticket to change the world, to right a social wrong. Yet, at this moment, Elle came to the sad realization of how many blocks were in her way of achieving this goal and how much politics played into creating positive social change.
When I saw this man walking by during my state of D.C. bliss, it felt as though for a moment, everything in me stopped. My thoughts, blissful splendor, breathing, movement, wandering eyes — everything paused, and I felt butterflies in my heart. Here I was in Washington, D.C., our nation’s capital, the epicenter of social-structure-changing policy, and there was a man walking down the street, homeless and without the mental health care he needed and deserved. I kept asking myself, how could we allow this? How could the White House and Congress and all these “Department of’s” be surrounding me right now, but still perpetuating the homelessness epidemic that we’ve allowed to eat away at the strength of our communities? How can some of the wealthiest people in the country live in this region, but yet there are still people sleeping in doorways and on park benches? I felt so dejected. If homelessness was still present here, and if change seemed stagnant here, in the very juncture of policy and creativity, then was my passion to end homelessness that beckoned me out here in the first place in reality just futile, recent-grad dreaming? I was disappointed, to say the least.
After Elle Woods reached this point of discouragement in D.C., she went and visited good ole Abraham Lincoln. Her tired heels clicked their way up the steep marble steps until she stood with exhausted posture and teary eyes in front of the all-knowing Abe, glowing in the night’s lights. Serendipitously, this was also my plan for the night once my coworker arrived.
We went to Abe by foot from Chinatown. It was a good distance, but the air had reached a nice evening temperature and seeing the moon stand next to the Washington Monument as we passed was beautiful. Washington, D.C. has a really clean feel to it. The walking paths were well-kept and they were alive with nighttime joggers and thrilled out-of-towners. Getting to walk with my friend and bask in good conversation had already flipped my mood away from my earlier angst, although the questions still stuck with me. Finally, we reached the moment where we would ascend the steps and meet Abe face to face.
When Elle Woods paused in front of Abe, she spoke, “So, what’s your story? Were you even honest? I guess you were. If you didn’t play games, then you were probably the only one. I just don’t know how you did it. I don’t even mean wearing that silly hat — because that was really brave. But, just trusting your country, trusting this system, trusting yourself. I did.”
When I paused in front of Abe, I actually got goosebumps all up my arms and a feeling made its way up through my chest until it forced my mouth into a big smile. It really felt surreal to be in this place where so much history has taken place — social-structure-changing history. I thought of all the speeches and rallies that have taken place in this very area over the course of our country’s life. There was something bizarrely meditative about standing in the Lincoln Memorial.
I thought about what happened next for Elle Woods. After speaking her words to Abe, some of her coworkers walked up behind her with the Snap Cup. The Snap Cup is similar to Bucket Filling, which I’m bound to discuss more in-depth at some point in this blog because, ever since working at an elementary school with some of the most inspiring people I’ve ever met, Bucket Filling has become a profound piece of my life. Anyway, the Snap Cup was filled with little “warm fuzzies” for Elle, little compliments to cheer her up and make her feel loved. These were coming from coworkers who didn’t believe in her at the beginning of the story, but were now there to remind her of what she had come to start.
The highlight of my job out here has by far been the people I have met. The coworker I was with at the Lincoln Memorial is fabulous and has a beautiful heart and there are some other lovely individuals I work with who I know want to create change in the world too. I think it is up to us to not give up on creating positive change in the world, wherever that may take us over the next few years. I also think we should start a Snap Cup or do Bucket Filling as a regular occurrence at work.
It’s not going to be easy, but I still know that we can end homelessness as a nation. We just can’t give up and we have to remind our leaders that it is a priority. We have to become the leaders. We cannot just sit around and witness injustice and expect it to fix itself. I ended the night with a somewhat renewed sense of spirit. I ended the night in the same place that Elle did after pushing forth regardless of no support from Congresswoman Rudd. I’ll conclude this blog with her tear-jerking speech that I believe sums up my journey ahead:
“Hello, everyone, my name is Elle Woods and I’m here to speak to you today about a piece of legislation called Bruiser’s Bill. But you know, today is supposed to be about education, so instead, I want to tell you about the education you all have given me over the past three months. I came to Washington to help my dog, Bruiser, and somewhere along the way, I learned a really unexpected lesson. I know what you’re thinking — who is this girl? And what could this simple, small-town girl from Bel Air have to say to all of us? I’ll tell you. It’s about something that’s bigger than me or any single act of legislation. This is about a matter that should be at the highest importance to every American — my hair. There’s this salon in Beverly Hills. It’s really fancy and beautiful. It’s impossible to get an appointment — unless you’re Julia Roberts or from “Friends,” you can just forget it. But one day, they called me. They had an opening. So I was going to finally get the chance to sit in one of those sacred beauty chairs. I was so excited. Then the colorist gave me Brassy Brigitte instead of Harlow Honey. The shampoo girl washed my hair with spiral perm solution instead of color-intensive moisturizing shampoo. Finally, the stylist gave me a bob — with bangs. Suffice to say, it was just wrong. All wrong — for me, you know? First I was angry. And then I realized my anger was completely misdirected. This wasn’t the salon’s fault. I had sat there and witnessed this injustice and had let it happen. I didn’t get involved in the process. I forgot to use my voice. I forgot to believe in myself. But now I know better. I know that one honest voice can be louder than a crowd. I know that if we lose our voice or if we let those who speak on our behalf compromise our voice, then this country — this country is in for a really bad haircut. So speak up, America. Speak up! Speak up for the home of the brave. Speak up for the land of the free gift with purchase. Speak up, America! Speak up! And remember — you are beautiful. Thank you.”