Faith, Hope, Charity, and Shiny Hands


July 18th

For this blog post, I would like to describe another adventure I had during my time in DC. As a tourist in DC there are some things you, almost by law, have to do and see. There are places, like the Capital, the White House, or the National Air and Space museum that will make your trip to our nation’s capital complete. I imagine that it’s like going to Faneuil Hall or the top of the John Hancock Building when you’re in Boston, the Empire State Building in NYC, or the Eiffel tower when in Paris. You just got to do it. Missing these things lessens your experience.

Well, one of the must see monuments or attractions to DC is the Vietnam Memorial. Even for someone who was a small child during the war, and had no one lost in my family during the war, it’s still a overwhelmingly sacred thing to see and witness.

As you walk around the memorial, you see people weeping at the wall, making pencil etchings of names, and leaving gifts. It’s hard to keep the lump in your throat from exploding as you walk through. The items left at the wall leave you speechless. Every night and when it starts to rain, park rangers collect the items, and they are warehoused.

One of the odd issues of the memorial is that even after 20 plus years, they have no idea what to do with the items that get left. They have committed to never destroying the stuff, but the amount getting warehoused grows each day. They stand as silent, warehoused monuments.

All in all, the Vietnam Memorial is an amazing monument, and every American should visit it at least once. Walking silently through the sight will change you. It’s a moment that is not soon forgotten. As you walk the park, I would also direct you to a lesser known Vietnam War memorial that unfortunately gets lost in the shadow and impact of the larger one. When you visit DC you should visit the Vietnam War Nurses Memorial.

It’s a small bronze monument, which pictures three nurses tending to a fallen infantry soldier. Surrounding the monument are six trees, remembering the six nurses who lost their lives during the war. It is a beautiful design, almost understated. As you take in the sculpture, you realize there is something incredibly beautiful that happens at that monument; something I myself was able to witness.

Let’s picture the monument. There are three nurses depicted. One nurse is cradling a soldier in her lap, her hand compressing a wound on his chest. The artist named her Faith; to acknowledge the faith that each nurse had that they could save every fallen soldier.

The second is holding a helmet as if she is handing it off, while crying. Her name is Charity. The original design had Charity holding a Vietnamese baby, but the design was deemed “too political” and changed. She is named Charity to remember the moments in war, were true charity and humanity were displayed.

The last is a woman with her hands outstretched staring into the sky as if she is praying to God. Her name is Hope. She is easily the figure in the most agony filled state, and she was to remind us of the hope that their presence provided.

That “Beautiful” thing that I mentioned I had witnessed, is something…like so many other acts of beauty…. that can and is usually missed by most who stop to see the statue. It involves the character Hope. A fellow student told me the secret, so I was blessed to witness it first hand.

He told me to save plenty of time to witness it first hand, so that is what I did. I got to the statue at about 5PM, and sat on a nearby bench in full view of Hope.

At first I thought it was a fluke, but I realized that almost each and every person that came to the statue did something peculiar. Each one would slowly, and very reverently, walk around the statue and look at the scene sculpted before them. When they made their way to Hope with the outstretched arms, almost to a one and without thinking, people would reach up and touch her outstretched hand.

One by one, one after another each person did it. In the hour I sat there, I saw only one or two adults pass by without doing so. Each and every day this is repeated over and over again. It happens so much that the hand is the only portion of the statue that hasn’t got that brown aging that all bronze statues get. It is shiny from the repeated touches.

After returning home and Googling the statue, I discovered a Georgetown University student decided he was going to research the phenomenon to insure that it wasn’t a hoax. In the end, he confirmed the frequency and the almost subconscious act. In the end, he provided a possible explanation.

According to his study, He believed that it was our response to seeing another in such visible agony. He believed it was part of our human nature to want to provide comfort, and to reach for another’s hand. Even if the woman wasn’t real, she was made of metal, the pain and sadness was real.

If his work was correct, he was saying that we respond in a way that’s hard wired. We respond by reaching out, and touching another’s hand. In the simple touch of your hand, you can spread, hope, faith, and charity.

The student said the genius of the sculptor was that in addition to faith, hope and charity,…the outstretched hands added another fourth element to the monument; Love.

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