On the bitterly cold Saturday of this President’s Day weekend, we hustled into the National Museum of American History. My friends were in town for two days and they had one mission – to see the First Lady dresses.
We wound our way through the exhibit. Remarking on the height of the ladies, the styles of the dresses and how many we think would still be considered high fashion if they showed up on the red carpet. We marveled at the shoes, jewelry, and the collection of White House china. We noted the roles of these women in their husbands’ administrations and their legacies.
Our conversation then turned to President and Mrs. Obama and the pool of candidates running for election. Will the next first family have children or grandchildren running the halls? Will the next first lady be donating her inaugural dress? Or perhaps his inaugural tuxedo? Will they have dogs to roam the Rose Garden?
After leaving that exhibit, we wove our way through the exhibit of the presidency and were reminded of the immense burden the president carries through his term. The thousands of decisions. The toll that is reflected in the deepened lines of their faces and the graying of their hair.
We stepped back out into the cold to spend the rest of our afternoon at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Words cannot do justice to the weight of that exhibit. But, with the presidential experience fresh on my mind, I couldn’t help but be very aware of the United States’ response to the Holocaust. Looking back, it seems delayed and inadequate. How much more we could have done? How much more we should have done? What if we had done more? What if we had done it sooner?
As we reflect on the two giants of U.S. history honored today, we wondered how future generations would view the events of our time. How will they regard our presidents?
Will they look back at our leaders and see strength? Or will they see stubbornness?
Will they see compassion? Or will they see naivety?
Will they see collaboration and compromise? Or will they see division?
Will they see hope? Or will they see skepticism?
Will they see action? Or will they see hesitation?
Will they wonder why they chose to act? Or will they wonder why they didn’t act sooner?
It’s of little wonder why Presidents leave office with deeper lines and grayer hair.