John Lennon’s Quote Was Right.

Pranav Guru
6 min readDec 7, 2021

John Lennon once said, “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.” First time I heard that quote, I realized its truth.

But before we get into that, I think we can all agree. There are few places in the world where we feel like regardless of how many times we visit, they somehow take our breath away each time.

As a child, India made my list. The routine trips, including my grandfather’s birthday and my cousin’s wedding, led to me acquiring a taste and falling in love with the ambience. Regardless if it was the Gateway of India in Mumbai, where the Indian Ocean touches the beaches of Tamil Nadu, or even the noisy city streets of Bangalore.

Maybe I’m a little biased, but whenever my extended family returned the favor and came to visit us in Chicagoland, we’d feel no compulsion hopping on board a Metra commuter rail to show them what Millennium Park and Navy Pier have to offer.

And recently, I’ve decided to add Washington, D.C. to the list.

I’ve been to D.C. about four times. It all started with a school trip in the eighth grade (yes, my entire eighth grade class flew from Chicago to D.C..) I also went there twice as a senior in high school, once to visit family in the Washington metropolitan area during spring break and again to check out the campus of the University of Maryland in nearby College Park.

A picture of the U.S. Capitol that I took myself on my first trip to Washington.

Most recently, I traveled back from a mini-vacation, where I attended an awards gala as a guest with my aforementioned extended family…and spent the time in-between glancing at the (many) attractions our nation’s capital has to offer.

How is it that seeing the same historic places and national memorials I’ve previously seen while I was finishing both middle school and high school can give me the same odd chills and the occasional teary eyes?

For me, it was a one-two punch.

First of all, to say I’m an overenthusiastic history buff would be the understatement of the century.

Second of all, when you’re a first-generation American (specifically, 1.75 generation, as it’s been specifically used to describe situations like mine) whose parents initially immigrated from India, you grow up hearing stories of immigration and narratives of pursuing the American Dream that are nothing like your own.

Despite having extended family members that lived there, I almost felt like a tour guide as I showed them all the memorials and monuments the National Mall had to offer.

Not only was I seeing the National World War II Memorial, the Constitution Gardens, and the Memorial to the 56 Signers of the Declaration of Independence for the first time, but visiting the Smithsonian took me back to when I was watching the sequel to Night at the Museum.

A photograph of the Lincoln Memorial I took during my first aforementioned first trip.

Meanwhile, visiting the Lincoln Memorial took me back to those childhood road trips to Springfield, IL. The best part of those little journeys? Visiting all the tourist attractions dedicated to Lincoln with a low-storage digital camera and no smartphone back then, leaving no choice but to unplug and take it all in.

But passing by west of the National Mall, it began to get emotional. After passing by The Three Soldiers statue, I realized for the first time that this statue I had seen before represented how diverse our troops were serving in Vietnam.

Sculpted by Frederick Hart, it represented a Hispanic American, a Caucasian American, and an African American standing side-by-side to represent the American servicemen in Vietnam.

Hart himself stated he designed the bronze sculpture “to create a sculpture which is in itself a moving evocation of the experience and service of the Vietnam Veteran”.

It really set the tone as we passed by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. As we passed by all those names, we saw how Americans ignored what race, religion, or gender had defined — despite the weight of the Civil Rights movement on their shoulders — to serve their nation.

In fact, the first among us to shed a tear. While I passed it off as an eyelash, it happened to my mother at the same time. Unlike me, she was honest.

Maya Lin, the designer of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (and a first-generation Chinese American), described it as “a kind of ocean, a sea of sacrifice that is overwhelming and nearly incomprehensible in the sweep of names.”

Oh, and I also haven’t mentioned the Vietnam Women’s Memorial, a tribute to the sheer importance of women to the conflict as it portrays three uniformed women tending to a wounded soldier.

While we had to leave D.C. quickly after the gala as I hadn’t taken enough Personal Time off my day job, my time there was enough to teach me a lesson;

Listed across the sign welcoming tourists to the National Mall is essentially the motto of the national park;

“Where America and the world come to reflect, honor, and celebrate.”

When we think of the state of our nation today, it can be easy to lose sight of the role we play. Most of us (myself included) spend each day simply trying to get by in life. In the chaos, it’s easy to get swept up in the tsunami of polarizing rhetoric spewed in attempts by agitators trying to divide the people of this nation.

But sometimes, you never know where you’re going until you take a step back and think about where you came from.

The United States was founded by brave men and women who settled and formed colonies to flee religious persecution and the injustices of the nations they came from. That’s why when the nation was founded, we ensured separation of religion and state.

In addition, our first president George Washington voluntarily left office after his second term.

Having seen his countrymen flee emperors and monarchies who served for dynasties, Washington explicitly wanted the role he was about to set the ultimate precedent for to not involve lifetime appointment and serving in office for life.

While he didn’t imagine that people like me would be writing about him on computer screen while sipping Smartwater and playing the remixed version of the hip hop song “Drama Setter” (Tony Yayo featuring Eminem and Obie Trice), he set various precedents so all of it could happen. All of what I just mentioned.

Traveling has given me the privilege of seeing the beauty that various places have to offer. Some of which have so much beauty you can’t help but want to go back there.

For some people, it’s beachfront resorts. For others, it’s natural preserves in all their glory. It can even be noisy city streets. Everyone has their own select list of places they can’t help but gaze at in amazement.

First time I heard John Lennon’s aforementioned quote, I realized its truth. After all, sometimes, all your itinerary says is to see your family. It doesn’t mention feeling as though middle school social studies lessons are coming to life before your very eyes.

You may have a written plan to take paid time off work to attend a gala your family has graciously invited you to. But when you climb the steps of the Lincoln Memorial turning your next to see the largest Gettysburg Address, you’re reminded that — in the words of Maya Angelou — “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.”

Can’t wait for the next journey to the nation’s capital.

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