With two weeks to go at my internship and classes starting in just about a month, now's as good a time as any for me to reflect on this transformative summer. This has been, in many ways, a summer of firsts — my first summer living in a metropolitan area, my first summer of legal work, my first summer on the East coast and my first summer away from Iowa and all the family and friends I love back home.
I'll start with Iowa because it's been on my mind a lot lately. So many of my friends out here have asked about the floods and what effect, if any, they have had on my family. My brothers and their families, and other family and friends of mine, live in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City. A flood of unprecedented proportion quite literally swamped both cities last month. Though the flood waters did not reach their homes, thank goodness, both my brothers' workplaces were substantially affected. I've posted a picture that my brother Mike took at his office, then sent in an email with the subject line, "Oh, the irony ..." According to a city plan, my brother Dan lives two blocks outside the 500-year flood plain and last month, the flood waters came within about, well, two blocks of his house. These floods, brought on by two solid weeks of rain in late May and early June, were like nothing our state had ever seen. Just as they always do when times are tough, Iowans pulled together and made the best of what for so many was and continues to be an awful situation.
The official nickname of Cedar Rapids is the City of Five Seasons — winter, spring, summer, fall and time to enjoy the other four. (It's a quality of life thing.) But many locals know Cedar Rapids by another name, derived from the presence of an Archer Daniels Midland corn sweetener plant and other odorous industry like General Mills, Cargill and Quaker Oats: the City of Five Smells. Unfortunately, I'm told that in the weeks after the flooding, a different kind of smell — a stench — overtook the others. But this is probably the least of Cedar Rapids' troubles at the moment. FEMA trailers made their way to the area, temporarily, and now there's a hefty cost to remove them. Damage to the central fire station has doubled response times. And down I-380 a few miles in Coralville, mold and mushrooms are still the norm in at least one less fortunate neighborhood. Of course the Iowa floods didn't come close to the same number of casualties as Hurricane Katrina, nor have people been displaced on the same scale. But for a state where agriculture accounts for about one-fourth of total economic output, and when about one-sixth of the people in the second-largest city had to evacuate, these floods are an awfully big deal. Keep the good people of Iowa in your thoughts. They're certainly in mine. They'll persevere, of course. Life is never bad for too long in Iowa. There are just too many good people around.
Good people abound in Virginia, too, and I have met my fair share of them this summer. The group of people I work with at the NoVA CDO are absolutely wonderful. I have made professional connections there, to be sure, but also personal friendships that will last for many years. I have discovered that death penalty defense is human rights work, and the people who do it care just as deeply about the families of the victims as anyone, as well as their clients' families, who suffer from the effects of these tragic crimes in their own sad ways. This line of work takes a special kind of person, one who has great compassion, patience and a willingness to build bridges and establish relationships where they are so desperately needed. I wish I could tell more specific stories, because they are powerful, but doing so could put our clients at risk.
Living near D.C. has afforded me a great many opportunities. I have walked along Georgetown's bustling, chic M Street; watched fireworks on the National Mall; cheered the Washington Nationals at their beautiful, modern new park and done the same for the Baltimore Orioles at their older, classic one; strolled Baltimore's inner harbor and enjoyed the view from its World Trade Center (see photo); laughed at comedians at the D.C. Improv; heard concerts at Wolf Trap and the Nissan Pavilion; applauded Hillary Rodham Clinton at her concession speech; toured the many monuments, memorials and museums of D.C.; even climbed a small, beautiful mountain called Old Rag. I am so grateful to my new friends for getting me acquainted with this wonderful area, which has so much to offer.
This summer has been a time for me to hone both my legal writing and racquetball skills. In each case, one lesson is clear: the more I learn, the more I realize how little I know. It's a familiar lesson that I first encountered nearly a decade ago, when I started studying philosophy. So long as I challenge myself, it's a lesson that endures, wherever life takes me.
I have learned this summer that although I'll always be a small-town kid, the big city is nothing to fear. I love writing in my journal as I take the Orange Line from Vienna to Capitol South, catching a nighttime glimpse of the Iwo Jima Memorial on the way through Arlington, and running up and down the hills of Old City Fairfax. Wherever I go from here, this is one summer I won't soon forget.
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