Up to the Hill

Was up at the Senate today, walking through old haunts and winding passages off the tourist trail. For fun, on the way to the credit union, went the back way, down old staircases and underground passages where staffers still hug the walls as they walk down the long corridors. As I went up one old staircase, I was stopped by a trail of pages followed by a journalist doing a story on the pages. When I returned to the staircase after completing my business, I found the same trail of pages passing me by once again, still followed by the intrepid young journalist.

The hallways are still filled with tourists and activists in their matching outfits, the well-dressed, well-healed lobbyists looking spiffy and sharp – just a little too sharp, the earnest young staffers speaking in tones just a little too loud as though to say “Look at me, I work at the Senate!” Now blackberries fill the palms of mid-level staffers and one of the Senate List boards was digitalized, which must make the comings and goings of elections far more easier. I use to know that board by heart, but now I just see a few names that I remember from the past.

When I first came to the Senate in my twenties I had such energy whenever I was in the building. Later, when I returned in my thirties, I still had that energy, that excitement about life on the Hill. But now, it’s like visiting the old high school, I was indeed so much older then, in so many ways. All the halls are filled with ghosts of memories, of so many memories from what seems as though a lifetime ago.

I can remember at one of the last staff meetings I attended during my tenure at the Senate in the 1980s. The Loyal Opposition had taken control of the Senate and we were all packing up our boxes and moving on. The chairman of my committee called us all together for one final hooray. We had been through a lot together, had worked through days and through nights (I remember one night I fell asleep over the phones in the central office of the committee and woke up to find a beaming Senator Moynihan chuckling as I nearly fell out of my chair, I was so startled.

But on that late morning in 1986, the chairman called us all together and then recited from memory this soliloquy from Henry V:

This day is call’d the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam’d,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say ‘To-morrow is Saint Crispian.’
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say ‘These wounds I had on Crispian’s day.’
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words-
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester-
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb’red.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

That comes to mind on this eve before the historic meeting of the House of Bishops. But I do not think so much of the bishops, tonight, but for those many – names we know, names we do not know, who worked so hard for so long to bring the Church back to her Anglican roots. It’s hard not to be sad tonight, to wish it was all so different than it is, to feel overwhelmed by the might and power of a institution long-accustomed to getting its own way. But what I remember tonight, as Henry remembered, or the committee chairman remembered all those years ago – it wasn’t the meetings, the legislation, the battles even that we remember, it is the people. It’s their faces that come through my memory tonight.

If anyone could have predicted we would be where we are at this moment, I would not have believed them. But here we are, our scars still visible, tears still in our eyes, hope still in our hearts, we press on to what is set before us.

When I think of those who gathered in that room that day in the Dirksen Senate Office Building, I know where some of those friends and colleagues have gone. Some are in greater halls of power and some lost everything. Some you would know their names, and many you would not. But for that moment we were brought together for a historic time that led to the Rose Garden and a signature by the President. Now we walk forward for another historic moment, but what garden will we find ourselves in, what signatures will we see?

As I left the Senate buildings and walked back to Union Station, all around me was evidence that so much had changed, evidence of the recent years of threats to all that we believe in. And yet, inside those buildings are people not so different from the ones I once knew, even myself.

As we head to New Orleans we will find a city greatly changed, a church greatly challenged, but what will we find in ourselves? Shall we find ourselves accurs’d for being there, for such a time as this? Or shall we find ourselves

From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered –
We few, we happy few?