Editor’s Note: Pandas and Patriots

Reader's Digest Editor-in-Chief, Liz Vaccariello tells a touching story from her family vacation to Washington, D.C.

Liz Vaccariello
Liz Vaccariello

I’ve traveled to our nation’s capital a handful of times, and I delight in noticing new things each visit. This spring’s revelation: Pandas poop yellow. In sixth grade, my heart melted at the National Zoo to see Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing, the panda bears gifted by China. This time, I was eager to meet Tian Tian and Mei Xiang and passon some panda love to my seven-year-old daughters. Sophia and Olivia were charmed, watching the bears lick their apple ice treats. When Tian Tian stood, walked a few steps, and defecated, the place went crazy.

Early the next morning, we spent a few quiet hours at the National Mall. We walked over to Maya Lin’s haunting Vietnam wall. Sophia struggled to grasp the numbers: “So there are 58,000 people who go to every war?” she asked.

“No, love, 58,000 people died just in the Vietnam War. Many more went, and some came back different.” Sophia started noticing hands. She gazed up at the Lincoln Memorial and saw that our 16th president sits with one hand clenched, one flat. “I think part of him is angry, part of him is calm,” she said. “Like there’s mean, and there’s nice.” Yeah, you gotta be both to be president.

Tian Tian and Mei Xiang
Tian Tian and Mei Xiang

Later, we stood before the Marine Corps War Memorial, which depicts six men planting the American flag over Iwo Jima. “Their faces are calm, but look at their hands,” said my husband. “That’s where you see the struggle. Their fingers are gnarled. Their veins are popping out.”

That was our last monument. Sophia picked a dandelion and closed her eyes. “I wish for no more war in this world,” she said, blowing the seeds in a swirl. “And that I can get a panda.”

—Liz, @LizVacc, [email protected]

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest