I WAS IN WASHINGTON D.C. ON BUSINESS. I had been there before, but had never taken in the sights. This time I was determined to do it all. My first stop was the National Archives. It is there that our Declaration of Independence and Constitution are displayed. It is a dark and austere foyer. The lights are dim to protect the integrity of the ink and paper of the grand old charters. Silently a string of people waited in line for their chance to see for themselves the words, “We the People . . . .”
I waited my turn with the rest of my American brothers and sisters, waiting to pay my tribute to the foundation of our blessed nation. The constitution was encased under green-tinted glass.
“The glass is very special,” said the security guard, who stood stoically beside the famous document. “With this protection, the paper only loses one year for every 1000 years of life.”
“Oh, my,” I said profoundly.
“Mister,” a boy down the line asked, “is this really the original constitution of the United States?”
“Yes, it is,” he said proudly. “See George Washington’s signature in the lower right?”
All of us looked at the list of squalled names.
“Yes,” I said. “There it is.” Then I did it. Then I desecrated one of the two most beloved documents of the United States of America. I pointed my right index finger at the name of the father of our country, being, oh, so careful not to touch the special protective glass. But the glass rested higher than it appeared, and in one awful moment my finger fell, schplot, dead center over the name of our beloved first president.
In the next tick of the clock, three things happened simultaneously.
One, I withdrew my dreaded finger and by so doing uncovered an ugly grease spot, little microbes already eating away at the sacred glass, relentless in their mission to devour the name of General George Washington. Two, the security guard, whose expression had turned from stoic to the wrath of Genghis Khan, barked out in a command that reverberated in the hall and rattled in my head.
“DON’T TOUCH THE GLASS!”
Three, I cowered in horror and embarrassment. “I didn’t mean to touch the glass,” I pleaded, but no one forgave me. Even the bratty kid who asked if this was reeeally the Constitution of the United States glared at me with contempt, glowering as if I had just ripped off the wings of a butterfly and laughed when I did it. BuraaAAAaah. More than anything I wanted to make restitution. “I am a citizen,” my inner voice rang out. “I get a lump in my throat every Independence day when the colors dance by on parade. I even get misty on Ground Hog’s Day, just because it’s a national holiday. Please forgive me; I am a Son of Liberty.” Still, I looked shamefully at the vile blotch I had dispatched.
Somehow, I would make it right. I pulled down the cuff of my sweater and grasped it like a rag. I would wipe the smug clean with a single swipe. As I leaned over the glass, my arm coiled, a brain-flash told me to take one last glace at the security guard for approval. Slowly I turned my head 20 degrees to the left, my sleeve still in hand. I raised my eyebrows and smiled a crooked smile, as if to say, “Wha d’ya say boss?” His direction was clear.
“Please move along, Pal.” Pal? Please move along PAL? Boy, that was cold. I felt condemned to the dungeon of the most reviled of men, the desecrators. Have you ever been wrongly accused, or even rightly accused for a dastardly deed that was unintentionally committed? Maybe you honestly forgot to include a friend on a guest list or perhaps you misplaced a gift from someone special. Or how about the time you blanked over a luncheon date? Those things happen. The problem is too often others act like it is their divine right to reign as the exalted Pooh-Bah of the inquisition from hell and tell you exactly where to get off. FORGET ALL THAT. That’s their problem. Apologize and get on with it. Life is too short to accept a ride on anyone’s guilt train-even one offered by the security guard for The Declaration of Independence.
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