Sunday, March 27, 2016

Ode to DC

The blog has gone silent for the last couple of months, much to my chagrin, while the move to NC loomed. But today is our last day in DC (or more accurately, Silver Spring) and I just can't let it go by without a little reflection on the past 7 years (9 for DP)...

When we started our respective grad/law schools in 2007, it was always a given that I would move to DC from Atlanta for the simple reason that law school is 3 years and my Master's program was 2. I worried how I would find a job when I graduated at the pit of the Great Recession, but a Davidson connection came through and I landed a temporary-turned-permanent stint with a small federal planning agency.

Titanic Memorial (credit: WaPo)
My first assignment was to draft a study looking at the commemorative landscape in our nation's capital. What people or events have we chosen to honor with a memorial -- presidents, wars, generals on horseback and (to a much lesser extent) civic leaders, artists, diplomacy -- and by extension, what parts of our American story have we left out? With a finite amount of federal land in DC, how do we choose what to commemorate and still preserve land for future generations to honor their own history? It was a fascinating entree into the swirl of politics, history, national pride, and special interests that makes this city run.

And with it, I began to run too. What started out as cabin fever during the back-to-back blizzards of 2010 that we lovingly call Snowmaggeddon turned into an 8k by St. Patrick's Day...and then a half marathon in 2011...and then a marathon in 2012. I ran because I was trying to figure things out -- my new marriage, my new job(s), my new city. And the more I explored the city, the more I fell in love with it.

The National Mall became my running track. The Reflecting Pool at the base of the Lincoln Memorial where millions have gathered to protest and sightsee belonged only to me at 6:30am. The neighborhoods that have evolved through centuries of change and upheaval, cycles of growth and decline, urban renewal, criminal and civil unrest, gentrification, can see it all in living color when you run DC.

I also ran to shake things off. I was wound tight in those days -- Type A in a city of Type As, all walking fast, multi-tasking, stressing out with work and ambition. I'd left my stable federal job for a very shaky nonprofit that imploded shortly after I started. Through some super smart maneuvering and two years of reeeeeeeaaaaallllllyyyy hard work, our little project was reborn on its own and produced the nation's first rating system and certification program for measuring local sustainability.

By 2013, I knew I needed a better balance between work and life. Somehow that translated in my Type A brain into adding 9 workouts a week and 5 triathlons in a season, including the half Ironman. I got to know the bike lanes and trails that year, crisscrossing DC and phalange-ing outwards with obscure linkups between jurisdictions and around developments. Access to the Mt. Vernon trail from the Metro at DCA? Through a parking deck. I felt like an insider knowing how to unlock not only the city but the larger region.

At least the view was amazing!
You know what happened next. Workouts got replaced by doctor's appointments, confusion reigned. The city that had unfolded layer upon layer for me to explore for the past 4 years began shrinking rapidly. Now I was fixated on every sidewalk crack as a potential trip hazard. The Metro was scary -- people running to catch the train, escalators out, someone could take advantage of my vulnerability. So I mostly stuck close to our little apartment at 7th & H.

We moved out to the suburbs in mid-2014, hoping for the best and to start a family. I walked the half-mile to the Metro exactly twice, opting instead for our newly purchased Subaru Outback to get me around. I got to study the city from a new angle, specifically the architectural artery that is 16th Street NW from the DC line to cresting over the hill in Columbia Heights and seeing 18 blocks down to the White House, with the Jefferson Memorial and the bridges to Arlington beyond.

It's all familiar but doesn't feel like my city anymore, now that most of my head space is wrapped up in where to park, how far the walk is from the car, and whether I'll have to get gas. I'm grateful for the freedom that I still have: driving to PT, acupuncture, the gym, Ashley's. But it's a far cry from the days I used to run the streets of Capitol Hill just to explore.

credit: Allison Matlack Photography
Instead, people distinguish this phase of our time here. Our niece and nephew playing freeze tag in the basement, weekly swim dates with Ashley, triking with Carissa, talking through the week with my acupuncturist-basically-therapist Liana, lunch dates with Lisa's mom Angela, friends who came to visit. It's enriched our lives beyond measure, helped us to cope and readjust and figure out what's next.

Moving to NC is absolutely the right next step -- in particular, I hope that DP will be able to find a slower pace with no commute. But with the move comes some deep sadness for the beautiful city we're leaving behind and the friends and family we won't get to see as often. It hurts, but in one sense I'm glad that it does. It is a sure sign of life lived well.