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Finding optimism

Lamonte - June 4, 2009

I work for General Services Administration, the government’s landlord and holder of the world’s largest real estate portfolio.  With such a lofty position and title you’d think we would be housed in wonderful facilities.  But you would be wrong.


The GSA Central Office, located at 1800 F Street NW in Washington DC, is a 70-year old building that has been in need of modernization for about 30 years.  While the building maintains some of its original grandeur, with its marble clad hallways and grand staircases, the operational parts of the building – where the work gets done – is pretty dreadful.  But on the west wing of the third floor is an architectural oasis – The Office of Design and Construction, formerly known as the Office of the Chief Architect.  About 7 years ago a renovation took place in that area which covers about 5% of the total building.  The walls are painted white, the floors is a combination of ceramic tile in the hallways and carpet tiles on the office areas and there are more white leather Barcelona chairs and Wassily chairs than I’ve ever seen collected in one place.  It’s beautiful. 


Up until about a month ago I had a work station in that office right next to an 8 foot high double hung window and right next to a mechanical vector unit (this suite of offices is the only one in the building with a modern mechanical system) and I was set.  Then I took a new assignment with the National Program Management Office that will oversee the spending of $5.5 billion dollars we received in stimulus money.  I had to move to the seventh floor, which is actually the old attic of the building and instead of an 8 foot high window I have a 4 foot high window that is half the width and half of that is filled with a window air conditioner.  I’m now on the east side of the building so the morning sun requires that we close our shades in order to see our computer screens.  Comparatively speaking, it’s pretty dreadful when I consider my former work space. 


But then as I sit and look out the small portion of window that has no air conditioner, and no shade, there sits an almost perfectly framed view of the Washington Monument.  It’s white stone cladding and its tapering profile is always a pleasant site to see and reminds me of how fortunate I am to live and work in a beautiful part of the country.   The monument stands firm in all kinds of weather conditions.  On a sunny day the white stone glistens and on a cloudy, overcast day – like today – the top of it disappears into the low clouds and makes you imagine that it continues to rise to untold heights.  It is a symbol of the strength of the nation and especially of our first president, a man who set the original standard of integrity that we wish our current day politicians would follow.  I’m sure some of you history buffs can cite some skeletons in Washington’s closet but I prefer to remain optimistic in my image of him. And this monument provides me with optimism on any day when world or local events might cause me to think otherwise.


And so I wonder what symbols or images or circumstances others might use to find hope in a sometimes hopeless world.  I know that I have many others in my life but as I sit at my desk each day I find joy in this simple image and life remains good.


  1. My first instinct is to say the temple because it encompasses all of the other symbols that get me through the day-to-day, like the Sacrament. I’m also fond of the sun, moon, and stars as symbols because they remind me to see the bigger picture, which I find to be helpful.

    But my favorite on a more personal level is the liahona. In the spectrum of iron rod VS liahona, I operate WAY more towards the liahona end of things–relying more on personal revelation than memorizing scriptures and teachings of prophets. This is actually a very difficult thing to do because the certainty that you’re right is almost never there, and you spend a good portion of your time feeling very lost and making mistakes. And you still have to be very knowledgeable in scriptures and teachings in order to be any good at it, but it adapts well to people and situations in ways that don’t require me to think about them because I have the benefit of relying on instinct and listening to the guidance of the Spirit, which I rely upon heavily for the simplest of things.

    Comment by Paradox — June 4, 2009 @ 8:48 am

  2. Of course life is good for you, you are eating my bread!

    Comment by ed42 — June 4, 2009 @ 7:27 pm

  3. Structures inspire me as well.

    I don’t ride the train to Manhattan without getting a prime view of the Brooklyn Bridge. If the Roeblings and a handful of gritty New Yorkers can throw up that thing – by 1883 – we can all achieve greatness. At least, that what it means to me.

    Comment by CJ Douglass — June 4, 2009 @ 8:26 pm

  4. This song and this song.

    I also have a CTR bracelet one of the Valiant girls I teach gave me last year. I’ve worn it ever since. Mostly I like it because it reminds of the girls and how awesome they are.

    Comment by Susan M — June 5, 2009 @ 3:22 pm

  5. Great post Lamonte. I agree about Washington. I find his life inspirational, even more so because he wasn’t perfect.

    For me, there is joy every day in my family and the beauty of this world. It’s easy to get discouraged if you dwell on the negative, but I feel optimistic when I think about my children, my health, my family and my friends. There’s so much to be thankful for that it seems wrong to ever get too down about the things that go wrong.

    Comment by MCQ — June 8, 2009 @ 12:24 pm

  6. Lately I’m more apt to see things make me pessimistic. I live in a city that has a lot of abandoned, boarded up homes and warehouses. It’s a reminder to me of former vitality and present and future decay, in both the temporal and spiritual senses.

    We probably see things in a way that reflects our outlook. Others may see in urban blight an opportunity for renaissance. But I struggle to find reasons for that kind of hope.

    What does brighten my outlook is seeing families with young children out and about. And I like to see things being built. This is part of why I enjoy my visits to Utah Valley so much.

    Comment by Tom — June 9, 2009 @ 9:17 am

  7. Tom – if memory serves me I recall that you live in Baltimore. And while I agree that Baltimore is full of “boarded up homes and warehouses” it can also be a pleasant environment. I worked in Baltimore for 6 years – drove 65 miles each way everyday from my home in Northern Virginia. I remember standing on a rooftop at the University of Baltimore and looking out over the urban fabric of rowhouses and church steeples and getting sort of a Mary Poppins recollection, so different than the experiences of my youth in a small farm town in Idaho. Maybe as you state, we each see things differently depending on our outlook. The focus of my career has been on the built environment (architecture) and so I may see things from that persepctive. I love the diversity of culture and environment that exists in Baltimore.

    Now if you don’t live in Baltimore…I’ve just wasted some time and space.

    Comment by Lamonte — June 9, 2009 @ 9:39 am

  8. You remember correctly. I have come to appreciate some of the charms of Baltimore and to actually like it overall. Certainly, I’m glad my family has had the experience of living here, even if it wasn’t always pleasant and we didn’t always have the best attitude. It was very jarring and depressing when we first moved out here to see the signs of a city in a long decline. But you get used to that stuff and over time it starts to feel more comfortable.

    Comment by Tom — June 9, 2009 @ 11:49 am

  9. I live on the prairies of Kansas and have a clear view of the sky without impediments. Thus, I have always loved watching the clouds ebb and flow, creating their various formations. Particularly inspiring are the cumulus clouds as they billow and surge, often tinted with pastels at sunset. No matter how painful are some of my days, no matter how disturbing is the news, I can always look up and find peace in the glorious creations of God. My mind and heart reflect with joy that our Savior will return in ‘clouds of glory’:…”and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” Matt. 24:30 When difficult trials seem to bring us down, may we remember to look up!

    Comment by Nikki — June 12, 2009 @ 9:34 am

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