Perhaps the most evocative writing of the past 10 or 12 days has come from people who know the U.S. Capitol the way most New Mexicans know the Plaza, or the Roundhouse, or Carlsbad Caverns.
The authors are, or were, Washingtonians, and their heartbreak over the assault on the building — and worse, the desecration of what all that white marble represents — is real.
So, when columnist David Brooks of the New York Times, blessed with a talent like few others, types words like "awe and reverence" in describing his first visit to the Capitol at age 14, it hits home.
But when Kell Kearns spoke about the place the other day, it punched the gut.
Kearns, a noted film documentarian who lives in Eldorado, wrote a letter to the editor the other day that made me pick up the phone. The rest was an education — a conveyance of just how much was lost on Jan. 6.
"It's just an awe-inspiring place," Kearns said. "Which makes what happened all the more inexplicable."
Kearns, 69, spent many of his formative years in or near D.C. He grew up in Falls Church, Va., the son of a foreign service officer who had an office near the National Mall. He didn't say this, but it sounded like the Capitol provided his internal gyroscope, the place that brought reassurance. A center.
"When I was 13, I took the bus from Falls Church each weekend and walked the Mall's length to the shining magnificence of the Capitol," he wrote in his letter. "Serene, it was the sacred edifice where the collective dream of a more perfect union was made manifest. I could not take my eyes off of it. To this day, the view awakens reverence."
I think I know a bit about what he means. About a dozen years ago, I took my family to D.C. for a vacation, and we toured the Capitol, drenched in the sweat of a Washington summer. There are bigger buildings in the world, but none so immense, so consequential. You don't walk its steps — hell, you don't get near the gift shop — without thinking about all that went into making this country. For me, it was the thought of those boys climbing the bluffs overlooking Omaha Beach, thousands dying so I could have a nation to call my own.
Maybe you've been there and have your own story or mental picture. The point is, you can't be near the Capitol, in the Capitol, without thinking.
Which is exactly the cause of Kearns' pain: So much happened there a week and a half ago that had no thought at all.
"It's hard to watch," he said of Jan. 6.
Kearns has seen plenty in his lifetime: As a kid, he volunteered to work in the office of the late Ralph Yarborough, a giant of the U.S. Senate who helped form the New Deal. He watched the giants of the civil rights movement — Martin Luther King Jr., Ralph Abernathy, Hosea Williams — brave Washington's bitter cold to plead their case for a Voting Rights Act. He recalls the protests of Vietnam and how those shouts still linger.
Still, he said, this was different from anything we'd known.
"To violently seize the Capitol and hunt down representatives to kill," he wrote in his letter, "was unthinkable."
Kearns is a documentary filmmaker of note, much of his work appearing on PBS. If there's a theme to his projects, it's that he concentrates on people who saw the world in a far different way than those who stormed the Capitol less than two weeks ago. Just check some of his titles: Gandhi's Awakening, Gandhi's Gift, Rumi Returning and In Remembrance of Martin Luther King. He's followed those who saw freedom in a different light.
In the madness of the Capitol takeover, Kearns, a self-described news junkie, said he couldn't turn away from the cable networks, sickening as those sights were. But as he audited his feelings, something came to mind. Perhaps there is a way to convey those bus rides from Falls Church to Washington through film. Maybe there's a way to tell the story of what the Capitol is in the medium he knows best.
"I've already begun a proposal," he said from his home in Eldorado, where he's lived since 2008. "I'd like for this to be a virtual tour, with interviews of people in the Capitol, resurrect the true meaning of what it is after having been rampaged.
"A tour is what I have in mind," he said. "You can go to the Visitors Center and there are short videos. But I'd like to give it the full treatment, try to place the Capitol in context, its greatness in context."
Now, that's a movie — or a short series of mini-movies — I'd like to see. Some things, even buildings, should be given their due. Some things deserve an elegy.
Some things deserve reverence.