"That was me," said Stephen, pointing to the kid in the Ramones T-shirt and black pants, slumped over, walking a good fifty feet behind the rest of his youth group who were undoubtedly touring the memorials for some sort of leadership training.
A visit to any sort of tourist location in Washington DC during the summer months is an inevitable painful reminder of just how miserable existence is during ages twelve to eighteen (give or take a year). Whether there with their well-intentioned parents or a charter bus full of student government middle schoolers, these kids struggle with being human.
While touring Gettysburg and trying to better understand the solemn events that took place during the gruesome Civil War battle, in the distance we heard the voice of a young girl whine, "Mom, just take the picture! It's so hot out here. TAKE THE PICTURE."
An exhausted Scout leader herded his pack through the hillside of grave markers while one portly adolescent with a poor understanding of reverence barked, "Did you see The Hobbit? Hey, did you guys see The Hobbit? I memorized this song from The Hobbit," and proceeded to sing the song he had memorized from The Hobbit.
If they're not wearing scout uniforms, they're wearing matching T-shirts in the most obnoxious color imaginable. They're also completely oblivious to anyone around them who might be trying to take a mediocre photo of the FDR memorial.
Stephen saw himself in the loner Ramones kid. I tried to find myself among the seemingly thousands of kids we weaved through to get from the Jefferson Memorial to the MLK. There was the girl walking between groups, muttering to herself. The girl with fluttery eyelashes walking alongside the shorter, freckled, dopey-grinned boy. The girls taking selfies next to the Potomac and the girls sticking their tongues out for a phot-op next to the sign that read "Martin Luther King Memorial". I couldn't find the exact thirteen-year old version of myself, but I know I was there somewhere. I was in a bright T-shirt, spending half my time pouting and the other half flirting, shooting disrespectful pictures, and generally taking up a lot of space. I don't understand why anyone took me anywhere.
Thankfully we had a few moments of solitude, away from the teenage invasion. Moments when we could really soak in the grandeur of this place.
And moments when we could feel glad to be grown ups. Or at least more grown up.
Look real close and you can see three thousand neon shirts.