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Posted at 3:19 PM ET, 10/27/2009

Running into America at Wisconsin and M

By editors

By Rick Rickertsen

I saw the best of Washington on a street corner Sunday morning.

I saw, and I felt, a city that was fully together, all pulling in one direction, all pulling for each person. I have not felt that way since late 2001, and it felt so good.

Where did this happen? At 10 a.m. Sunday, on a magnificent, crisp morning, I walked to the corner of Wisconsin Avenue and M Street in Georgetown to watch the runners in the Marine Corps Marathon make the right turn in front of the old Nathan’s tavern. It was the race’s nine-mile mark, and I expected to see a bunch of sweaty, tired people deep in regret for having taken on an arduous four- to five-hour adventure through the D.C. streets.

Instead, I was met by the sounds of a rock-and-roll band and hundreds of onlookers who crowded the streets to cheer on the runners. Those runners were a remarkably diverse group. Some looked like endurance athletes, but more resembled your paunchy third-grade teacher. And despite the obvious pain of having run for well over an hour, with some three yet to go, these runners waved and yelled and smiled and high-fived the crowd as they passed.

Then, as if on cue, a man came down M Street holding high an American flag, cheering all the way. He grinned wide and exhorted the crowd to cheer with him, and he looked like he could go another 100 miles doing exactly the same thing. As he went by, I looked at the lady next to me, and we both had tears in our eyes. Why was that so?

For me, it was two things. The first was being among all these people rooting so entirely for this group, many of whom were just average Washingtonians who had pushed themselves for months to take on such a difficult athletic challenge.

But deeper than that, it was the feeling of being, all of us, in solidarity. The band, the onlookers, the runners and their friends all were fully present on a big day. We in the crowd were out there for the runners — and they were applauding us back. Of course, it sounds like a cliché, but we were one.

And why did this feel so good? Because it was so different from normal in this political city of ours, and probably from the normal that extends to our heavily divided country. On that street corner, no one was bitterly deriding anyone else about the public option, or abortion, or the national debt, or the deficit, or Wall Street pay, or Afghanistan, or race.

The discourse in D.C. has become so bitterly divisive that we forget what it can be like when we all row in one direction. The only other time I can remember that truly united feeling was after Sept. 11, 2001, when thousands of us flew American flags from our car windows. Remember the immense positive power of that at such a dark moment? It felt as though this great country could achieve something profound.

But it all came unhinged in just a few years, and we are now endure the nastiest discourse in my 15 years in Washington. People in power literally root loudly for a young new president to fail. Is that the best of America? I strongly doubt it.

But I glimpsed our great potential again today. It’s still with us.

I saw a great city, and a great America, on a street corner in the heart of the District. It was drawn out by a bunch of foot warriors on a four-hour quest, and for that, I thank them. Go, runners, go!

By editors  | October 27, 2009; 3:19 PM ET
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