Friday, March 1, 2013

The Embers of the Republic

My wife and I recently went out to lunch.  Times are tighter for us, after the new CEO of her former organization used a thicket of empty PR jargon-speak to excuse firing her along with a full third of the organization, all but one of whom just happened to be over forty.

Leave vengeance to the Lord, I remind myself, while surreptitiously looking through my Doctor of Ministry course catalog for the class that teaches "Summon Lightning."

Anyhoo, it's important for us to maintain connection with each other, and so our dates are now often in the day.  We recently went to lunch (cheaper) at a restaurant in a nearby office park.  Twenty Nine Forty One is seriously swanky, the kind of place that serves small artsy portions on big drizzled plates.  It's generally out of our price range, and is doubly so now.  But there was a special event, and the price was low, and so we went.  It was delicious, and a nice outing.

On the way out, I stopped and took this picture.  The building the restaurant inhabited is the headquarters for General Dynamics.  General Dynamics is the corporate behemoth that builds, among other things, the M1 Abrams Main Battle Tank.

The sign for the headquarters rests on a familiar spot.  

You see, I've grown up in these parts my whole life.  Years ago, when I was a teen, the office park inhabited by General Dynamics was a partially developed construction site.  It was being developed during the Reagan years, which were a huge boom time for Washington.   Those billions upon billions of dollars we borrowed to spend the Soviet Union into collapse went right to DC, where corporations slurped 'em up.  

Office park high-rises surged up everywhere.  But in 1987, this particular development was not complete.  There was little traffic through it, and it made a great place to drive, park, the things teenagers do.

In the last week of senior year, my high school was clearing out junk in preparation for the next year.  Wandering around the halls after school, a friend and I encountered a huge pile of ratty books.  Some were in a trash can.  Some were piled on the floor.  They were all the same book, hundreds upon hundreds of old dog-eared copies of Plato's Republic, finally being replaced after several decades of serving government classes.

So of course, we had to have them.   

We asked the janitor, who said, sure, why the hell not?   That official permission received, we wheeled two huge garbage cans full of Plato out to my Plymouth Valiant, and filled the trunk and the back seat with them, until the rear suspension sagged and wallowed.

That night, we motored over to the construction site.   I pulled the Valiant into an entrance that went nowhere, a driveway built in anticipation of a building that did not yet exist.  We unloaded the car, building a great pyre of spent books on the pavement.  

It didn't take much to get it burning, and for about twenty minutes, the flames soared high, our faces red and bright with the heat as the Republic burned.

As the fire died down, we jumped and leapt through it, the heat of the embers fading but still hot through the soles of the romper-stomper steel-toed boots I wore.

That sign sprouted up on exactly that spot, that very place, where one night the Republic burned to embers.

Memory creates such funny connections.