Before I moved to D.C., people warned me that I was entering a wasteland, where I would find political playbooks and high-fluent people more often than familial life and neighborly charity. So far, that has not been the case.
Now, I will say the level of bureaucracy rivals that of a nightmarish novel—if you want a picture hung in a government office, it might take three crews to complete the job; if you want to travel in a vehicle, it might result in one ticket for marking the pavement and another for parking on it; if you want to have health care, it might require two internet browsers, five call numbers, and countless resubmit buttons (oh, wait, the whole country understands that dilemma).
Despite these infractions, I have found it is possible to live a humane life, as long as you look in the right places. Now, I will not speak for people in a different stage of life, but for a young woman, Washington D.C. offers possibilities unmatched by many places.
First, for those who want to experience an intensity of work while they are able, “The Hill” will surely test your exuberance. And, during those late evenings, sanctifying your work takes on new meaning (suddenly, having a family doesn’t sound as frightening).
Second, for those who crave order, city life requires it. I must leave the house in time to make the mile walk; I must seize the Saturday to wash my laundry and grocery shop; I must plan to catch up with a friend one evening. Everything requires effort, but it has a way of forcing a decision and intentionality.
Third, for those who crave community, churches are tucked in between lobbying firms and federal buildings. The Church has become my rock. Though people may come and go, the solace of communion awaits. Not to mention, parishes scattered across the city offer daily Mass. In addition to the sacraments, many parishes have vibrant associations that cultivate friendship and faith.
Fourth, the pillars of liberty still stand. When the current state of the world seems nearly hopeless, you can gaze at the dome of the Capitol, or walk through the shelves of the Library of Congress, or meander into the Portrait Gallery. Beauty remains in the city of rectangular agency buildings; you just have to soak in the treasures, and remember that is why some of us keep fighting—we believe no city is so far gone that an abundance of mercy and a little elbow grease can’t reclaim it (also, it’s never been pristine, as is evidenced by the Emancipation Hall, dedicated to the slaves who laid the stones of the Capitol).
Fifth, poverty sits on your doorstep. This is true in more ways than one—yes, sometimes it does seem that the life of a young staffer requires a level of frugality unknown in more modest cities (I will admit, for the first time I was ecstatic that the monstrous chain of Wal-Mart had finally shoved its way into the city). But in a more serious sense, homeless wander the city, creating plenty of opportunities for people to give an extra sandwich, or offer a warm smile, or think twice about that “need” for a new pair of shoes.
Finally, good conversation is a D.C. staple. I don’t know if I have attended any gathering where people did not want to discuss a theory, recent book, political question, or the Pope’s recent encyclical. Ok, I admit, I might not always travel in the most representative crowds, but I have found that people of varying political persuasions invite lively conservation and assume that wit and good cheer is the norm. There is always something to learn, and in D.C. there is always someone to inform. It makes for a stimulating party.
I could continue, and elaborate on the volunteer possibilities, the social norms that still stand, the chances for great mentors, the cultural events, beautiful art, the cosmopolitan food (though it underperforms in comparison to Houston’s diverse cuisine), the historic markers, and the scenic surrounding areas, but I will not bore you with further vignettes of a young person’s possible D.C. life.
I will simply conclude with this: D.C. magnifies the nature of politics. Politics derives from “polis,” the things concerning the city. It creates a governing structure so that families and communities can dwell upon the higher things. It enables civil society to flourish. D.C. is the polis writ large—it amplifies the baseness of all, from the pauper to the politician. But it also calls forth the courage for those with the upmost virtue. It asks much of the young souls, but it brings great purpose with it. It requires us to know who we are, and to remember our meekness and His greatness.
Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.