Remember when you were a little kid on vacation for the first time?
You sat on your knees and pressed your palms and forehead against the glass of the bus window as the kaleidoscope of images seemed to zoom past your mushed face.
That's what it was like for me this weekend as my family took on the entertaining challenge of taking a "family vacation" to Washington, D.C. Moving six children (counting myself) and two adults through the nation's capital is no small feat, especially maneuvering our caravan through the turnstiles at the Metro. I'd compare my mother to Quick Draw McGraw as she wielded out tickets, swiped them through the machine and sent child after child through each turnstile.
As I rode into the city on Friday morning, my mind went back to my childhood. On field trips, I'd poke my head against the school bus window and just sit in awe, bragging about which playground I would run around on or which roller coaster I would ride first. That feeling returned on Friday.
A fortress of homeless city members resided in the midst of a traffic roundabout, with tarps, tents and hopeless looks staring right back at me as I rode in my air conditioned, seat reclining bus to tour the city they call "home."
My heart hurt.
I recall trekking down the escalator after being united with my Dad. As we shot the breeze I was reminded of the reality of my location.
"Excuse me?" Followed by, "EXCUSE ME?!"
That's all the man in the black Armani suit with Starbucks cup and satchel in hand muttered to me before I was barreled over and forced to the side.
There is this thing some would describe as "escalator etiquette" in Washington and other major cities. The etiquette is the unspoken rule (usually) that the slow walkers and (for lack of a better word) streets gawkers should migrate to the right side of the breezeway while the fast walkers streamline past the slow movers on the left side, just like driving.
Though this man was stereotypical, I learned a valuable lesson from him after being in D.C. for only three minutes.
The cultural melting pot I witnessed at the Lincoln Memorial cannot even be accurately described. I don't know if I can do it justice.
On the memorial stairs stood visitors of every tongue, color, tribe, nation and descent all hoping to get just a glimpse of the monument.
It's something I'll never forget and will be forever etched into my brain. These visitors were all seeking the same thing, to catch a glimpse of something bigger than themselves. There were no barrier lines of entry. All were welcomed in.
That's what a nation that unifies does to its visitors. It embraces those without a home with open arms and assimilates them as if they had been born into the family.
I would love to say that you can step out of your apartment or dorm room door and experience the same tidal wave of cultural meshing but that would simply not be the case in Knoxville.
This trip reminded me about what college cannot teach me. In spending time with my family, I learn how to be a future father, a husband and leader. In experiencing a new city, I'm able to learn and further my passions while pondering places in which I, too, can make a difference.
College will teach you how to make a living. But it really cannot teach you how to live well. That's something that has to be gleamed from the wisdom of your parents, mentors, heros and guardians.
So next time you have the opportunity to go on an adventure, especially a family adventure, do it. You may just recapture the Kodak moments of your youth all over again.
Gage Arnold is a rising senior in journalism and electronic media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.