On a visit to the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, DC this week, I found myself in a dark corner of the National Mall with no viable ride sharing pickup location nearby. I’d walked to the monument on dark pathways from the Lincoln Memorial and could always go back in that general direction to pick up a cab or Uber there. Alternatively, I could just start walking towards my hotel in Crystal City and pick up a ride from some business or bright parking lot along the way. I opted for the latter, and descended into yet another adventure.
You can see the walking path I took with a quick Google map with Jefferson Memorial as the starting point and the Westin hotel in Crystal City as the end point. It looks pretty simple on the computer screen—a basic three mile walk on across the George Mason Bridge to the Mount Vernon Trail, past the airport and you’re basically there. In the daylight I bet it’s a lovely stretch of trail to take, and I’d recommend it in the opposite direction for a morning walk to the National Mall. At 10:30 PM (22:30) it feels entirely different. Once you cross the bridge there’s no illumination on the path until you reach the airport. Cars zipping along the George Washington Memorial Parkway provide ambient light, but also ruin night vision. Planes taking off from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport launch dramatically overhead, making it hard to hear anything else. In short, situational awareness is greatly inhibited. Throw in a place you’ve never been before and only a map on your phone to guide you and you might begin to understand the potential sketchiness of the walk.
Perhaps I should have turned back towards the National Mall, perhaps I should have walked with others. Perhaps a strong flashlight or headlamp might have helped, had I the foresight to bring them. Then again, perhaps just staying in my safe hotel room when it got dark out may have been the answer. But we ought to embrace whatever adventure we create for ourselves and make the most of it. Not in a reckless fashion, but rather as open-minded seekers of a larger life.
The thing is, luck would have it that I made it from point A to point B with nothing but a good story to tell. Luck might also have thrown a mugger at me, or a sprained ankle on the darkest stretch of trail far from help. Luck might have had my phone die at an inopportune time. Luck is not something to rely upon. We must rely upon ourselves.
Whatever we do, whether it’s walking alone in some dark and isolated place or stepping into a crowded, target-rich hostile environment in a city we aren’t familiar with, we must keep our wits about us. Just as we can’t have good situational awareness if we’re distracted with our phone, we can’t make good decisions about what to do next when we stumble into potential danger if we panic. So take a deep breath, assess the situation and choose the best option available at the moment. That’s generally where our luck begins to improve.